How to tell if your car has been recalled

Toyota had to recall millions of vehicles including the Prius (Picture © Toyota)

Toyota had to recall millions of vehicles including the Prius (Picture © Toyota)

Cars are by far the most complicated mechanical good consumers can buy, each consisting of around 12,000 components. Sometimes one or more of those parts goes wrong, either because they’ve been designed incorrectly or the materials used in them aren’t up to the job. Often this will result in the car being recalled for corrective work by the manufacturer; there were 480 notices served in 2013 on all vehicles from motorbikes to lorries. Here’s what you need to know. 

What is a recall?
Sometimes if vehicle manufacturers identify a fault (frequently because multiple customers’ cars have suffered from the same problem) they will instruct their dealers to carry out the work as part of the next service. However, if the fault is safety related, the Government’s Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency’s (DVSA) code of practice requires the car company to fix it quickly so it issues a recall.

Who tells you about recalls?
The manufacturer or its dealers will write to everyone who owns examples of the affected cars using their own information and that from the DVLA. However, sometimes people have recently moved house, or possibly sold the car so the actual owners don’t get the letter. If you’re buying a used car, it’s always worthwhile finding out if the car has been subject to a recall and had the repair work done; after all, previous owners may have ignored recall letters.

How do you know if your car has been subjected to a recall?
Go to the VOSA website and fill in the details for your car. You then need to match your car’s make and model, plus date of registration and Vehicle Identification Number (VIN – the vehicle handbook will tell you where this is located) with the recall notice. If it is subject to a recall, you need to contact the manufacturer who will advise on what to do.

Do they cost anything?
No. A recall is the manufacturer putting its hands up and saying it got something wrong. If a component is subject to a recall, the repair will be done for free. All you have to do is get the car to the garage.

What’s the oldest car that can be recalled?
There is no age limit to cars that can be recalled. Look on the VOSA website and cars that have been subjected to recalls date back to the early 1990s with some models long since out of production.

Why are there so many recalls?
As cars are such big ticket items, and recalls frequently involve headline-grabbing words like ‘fuel leakage’, ‘failure’ and ‘fire’, we tend to hear more about car recalls than any other product. However all consumables from kids’ toys to computers can be recalled. Research over five years in the US showed that only 7.4 per cent of all recalls were cars. That compares with 24.8 per cent for home and garden products and 39.4 per cent for children’s goods.

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