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How to handle your next auto recall

One auto recall is bad enough, but four in two years is a bit much for any auto owner. So, you get a little experience with handling the process.

All car companies have recalls. The nature and complexity of the modern autombile makes it so. Still, imagine the inconvenience these past two years for Toyota customers.

Then again, my wife, Judi, has had a similar experience.

First things first, though, with an auto recall notice. Do not panic or take an argumentive posture with the dealer.

Fact is, all recalls, bar none, are the ultimate responsibility of the manufacturer, whether they admit to it early or late; although late usually implies hiding from their customers. The dealer is, nonetheless, the service arm; and independent at that.

As a customer, you are certainly inconvenienced whenever you receive a recall letter like the one shown; and manufacturers, especially American automakers, take these inconveniences far too lightly, in my opinion. Words of apology seem so meaningless when the recall count is high.

Problem is, dealers are not authorized to offer you anything other than to do the inspection and repair if needed.

Your second order of business is to read your notice thoroughly, so you understand fully if there is an immediate safety danger.

The next place to do confirming research is the internet, like, for example.

According to, a recall is an action by the company to remedy a safety or emissions related concern related to a vehicle defect or regulatory requirement. It may require that you return your vehicle to the dealer for service. If your vehicle is not affected, it may be because it was built at a different time or using a different part than the affected vehicles.

Recalls should not be confused with a Technical Service Bulletin (TSB). A TSB is the way that car makers notify their dealer service departments of known problems with specific model vehicles. These bulletins are also available to independent garages, owners, and do-it-yourselfers. These are NOT recalls.

Neither are motor vehicle and related safety defect investigations. These are merely statements that investigation is in process to discern whether a vehicle, its tires or equipment suspected component failures that present a risk to highway safety, and from non-compliance with Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS). The operative word is “suspected.”

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) of the U.S. Department of Transportation provides the basis for all recall information, including vehicle and equipment campaigns from 1966 to present. The campaigns include motor vehicle products which experienced a safety-related defect or did not comply with federal motor vehicle safety standards

The EPA's Office of Transportation and Air Quality is responsible for ensuring that motor vehicles comply with the federal emission standards throughout the useful life of those vehicles. EPA can require manufacturers to recall vehicles when a substantial number of a class or category of vehicles fail to meet the emission standards. Automobile manufacturers can voluntarily issue recalls for emission-related problems.

So, after the classification of the recall and triage of the recall notice, the next order of business is to make an appointment with your dealer.

In the case of my wife, Judi’s 2009 Chevy Cobalt, she was able to make the appointment on-line, thanks to Buff-Whelan Chevrolet’s website, That is a great convenience, provided the dealer personnel use the system themselves to ensure your time and place in the service order.

Regardless, be prepared when you drop your car to either wait an extended period or have someone pick you up; or make arrangements with the dealer to drive you to your work or your home. Only if they keep the car overnight will a separate car be availed for you to drive as a courtesy.

When you receive the call that your car is ready, there should be no charge, unless you ordered additional work on your car. In Judi’s case, she wanted a new button on her seat belt which retains the belt clip for easy handling.

As a customer, the manufacturer owes you one for a recall. This should go beyond washing your car, which is a dealer duty anyway. No, the manufacturer should provide you a choice of a gas card or tickets to a movie center of your choice.

Point is, a recall is a failure to deliver what they promised; and four is a travesty. The automaker should be ashamed enough to make some kind monetary apology for your inconvenience.

Wait, there’s more. Use the web or mailer to let the dealer know how you feel about their service. If you are totally dissatisfied, contact the manufacturer directly. Believe me, they want you to be satisfied. Just ask Toyota.

About the Author: After 39 years in the auto industry as a design engineer, Frank Sherosky now trades stocks and writes articles, books and ebooks via, but may be contacted here by email: [email protected]

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