When a vehicle manufacturer or federal agency determines that a specific make and model has a defect that makes the car unsafe, they will issue a recall for that particular vehicle. Car owners should understand what to expect when a recall on their vehicle occurs.

Be aware of your rights and responsibilities during a vehicle recall so you can keep your car in safe working order.

Recall notification

If the government or an auto manufacturer recalls your vehicle, the car company must notify you at the address you used when registering your vehicle. The letter must include details of the issue, the type of injuries that may result from the issue, signs that the issue affects your vehicle, what type of repair you should expect and information about the next steps. You can also sign up for updates for your car’s make and model at the National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration website.

The repair process

In most cases, the manufacturer will instruct you to see a local dealership for repair at no cost to you. If the repair will take several days or longer, such as if a parts shortage occurs, you may receive a loaner vehicle or reimbursement for a rental. Depending on the severity of the issue, the NHTSA may require you to seek repair within a specific time frame (60 days for tire issues, for example).

In rare cases, the car manufacturer may refund your auto purchase. They can also decide to replace your vehicle or replace the vehicle part associated with known issues.

When injury occurs

Sometimes, you may experience property damage or injury in an auto accident that resulted from a defect. If you did not receive recall notification, you can potentially sue the car manufacturer for medical bills, lost wages and other associated costs.

Consumers with a defective automobile can file a complaint with the manufacturer and with NHTSA. Often, an outpouring of car owner concerns will lead to a recall if unsafe conditions result.