Got a Recall? There’s an App for That.

Consumers have heard plenty these past few years about automotive recalls, especially those involving airbags supplied by Takata. Tens of millions of cars are currently affected by airbags that may release dangerous projectiles on deployment.

But the Takata mess is just the tip of a recall iceberg involving vehicles, car seats, tires, and other equipment. With as many as thousands of parts and accessories present in many modern vehicles, something is bound to go wrong. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) tracks this information and now supplies a tool to help vehicle owners stay on top of it all.

That tool is none other than a new SaferCar app that’s easily downloadable to most any cell phone. So, why this app? Because as important as it is to stay on top of recalls, many are going unheeded. Notably, the NHTSA says that one in four vehicles currently in use has a safety recall. That’s a risk to the driver, passengers, other vehicles, and pedestrians, and is something that can and should be tracked and fixed as soon as possible.

How well does this app work? Well, we headed to the Apple App Store (Google Play Store for Android) and downloaded a copy to our iPhone and found the process straightforward. Once downloaded, you’ll be prompted to respond to a request to expedite notifications. If you “allow” notifications, then you may receive alerts, sounds, and icon badges for notifying a recall. You can control these requests in your cell phone’s settings.

Registering your vehicle is as easy as identifying it by its make, model, and year. You may find various versions of your vehicle listed, depending on the body style and drivetrain. Choose the one that most accurately describes your vehicle.

The app makes it easy to identify your vehicle. To help the app “understand” what you own, either scan or input the 17 alphanumeric sequence that represents your ride. I would love to say it scanned mine, but it did not. Instead, I took a photo of the VIN and then inputted the information to the app. The easiest way, of course, would have been to simply add that sequence while standing in front of the VIN.

Once the app has your information, it’ll issue you an update for your car. Mine returned the following statement: “This vehicle has no unrepaired recalls.”

What’s especially helpful about the app is what it can do. You can enter as many vehicles you like, thereby setting up your “virtual garage” for tracking those details. Besides your vehicles, there’s room to add tire, car seat, and information about the many accessories you may have. If there is a recall notification for anything listed, it will appear. Importantly, the NHTSA issues prompt notifications once it publishes its findings. This means that allowing notifications may be the best way to go. Otherwise, you’ll need to check your app regularly for updates.

What the app cannot do is arrange a recall fix. Instead, once you discover your vehicle is under recall, reach out to your local dealer’s repair shop for guidance. If a part must be replaced, the shop will tell you whether it is in stock or not. Moreover, you’ll need to make an appointment to have the recall handled.

The good news about a recall, is that they’re typically covered by the manufacturer. This means the repairs are made at the dealership level and the dealer bills the manufacturer. The same goes for recalls covering tires, car seats, and vehicle accessories. If you’re not sure a cost is involved, just ask.

We haven’t used the app much since its launch. There are bound to be some bugs present early on, so expect updates along the way. With this in mind, respond accordingly to keep the app current to ensure all recall notifications are delivered immediately.


Photo copyright NHTSA.

Author: Matthew Keegan
Matt Keegan has maintained his love for cars ever since his father taught him kicking tires can be one way to uncover a problem with a vehicle’s suspension system. He since moved on to learn a few things about coefficient of drag, G-forces, toe-heel shifting, and how to work the crazy infotainment system in some random weekly driver. Matt is a member of the Washington Automotive Press Association and is a contributor to various print and online media sources.

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