4 Common Car Recall Misconceptions

Tens of millions of cars are recalled each year, representing problems that may occur after a car has been sold. Many car recalls are the result of faulty airbags produced by airbag supplier Takata and are found in vehicles produced by more than a dozen manufacturers.[1]

Unfortunately, there are common misconceptions about car recalls that continue to persist. We’ll address these matters in an effort to keep your family safe.

See AlsoHow Much Does Airbag Replacement Cost?

Misconceptions About Vehicle Recalls

Misconception No. 1 — Car Recalls Point to Quality Issues

More than 51 million vehicles were recalled in 2015, surpassing 2014’s previous recall record.[2] For consumers, the rise in the number of recalls is disconcerting. After all, is the vehicle you own safe or is it a danger to you and your family?

The sharp rise in the number of vehicle recalls has much to do with improved detection tools and tighter safety regulations. Car problems that might have been missed or downplayed in the past are now under scrutiny.

Furthermore, a dwindling number of suppliers mean more manufacturers are sharing parts. Indeed, some 14 automakers use Takata airbags. Car quality, notably reliability is on the rise, according to J.D. Power.[3]

Cars are not the only products recalled in greater numbers. The Consumer Product Safety Commission averages one recall daily, including such recent ones as 29 million Ikea chests and dressers, an assortment of hoverboards, Martha Stewart skillets sold by Macy’s, and a host of other household products.

Misconception No. 2 — Loaner Vehicle Availability is Assured

If your car is subject to a recall, can you get a loaner vehicle until the repairs are made? After all, it may take several years for Takata to produce enough airbag inflators to supply to car manufacturers. As we’ll see, the answer to that question is murky at best.

There are no state or federal laws requiring manufacturers to supply a loaner vehicle until your car has been repaired. Further, each manufacturer sets their own policy on how to handle loaner vehicles.

Toyota, for example, may supply a loaner vehicle when your car is in the dealer’s shop for warranty repair.[4]

In this situation, customers are eligible for a loaner vehicle if their car is kept overnight and also meets one of the following three criteria: the warranty repairs will take longer than one day to finish, the warranty condition requires extensive diagnosis, or the parts needed for warranty repairs are not readily available and your vehicle has been deemed inoperative or unsafe to drive.

Contact your dealer to learn about your options. Even if the written policy provides little satisfaction, you should press the manager for a favorable resolution.

Misconception No. 3 — My Rental Car is Safe

Let’s say you’re taking a trip and you fly to a city and are in need of a rental car. Likely, you’ll have your choice of a half dozen or more car rental companies available to you, ranging from regional operators to the global dominators. Your rental car is safe to drive, right? Maybe not.

The answer to that question was absolutely in doubt until recently. Prior to the passage of a new federal law that went into effect on June 1, 2016, the car rental companies could provide keys to a car with a known safety defect.

That law is the direct result of action taken by the family of two sisters killed in a fiery crash involving a not-yet-recalled Enterprise Rent-a-Car Chrysler PT Cruiser. The 2004 accident underscored industry negligence and led to the passage of the new law.

Not all rental car companies are covered, however. A loophole exempts companies with fewer than 35 vehicles from the law.[6] Always ask your rental car agent if a car has an open recall before accepting the keys. While you’re at it, check Parents’ car seats recall list for unsafe car seats before accepting a rental car with a seat that may not be safe for your child.[9]

Misconception No. 4 — My Used Car Has No Unfulfilled Recalls

Purchase a used car from a dealer and your vehicle has no open recalls, right? Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. In fact, legislation requiring the completion of repairs before a used car can be sold was blocked by an influential auto dealer lobby last year.[7]

Fortunately, consumers are not left without resources to verify whether a used vehicle is safe or not. Every passenger vehicle comes with a Vehicle Identification Number (VIN), a 17-digit alphanumeric representation specific to that vehicle. The VIN is typically found at the edge of the dashboard where it meets the base of the windshield. Stand outside the vehicle, copy the VIN, then input that number into the NHTSA database on Safercar.gov.[8]

There are a few things to keep in mind about the database. First, it covers recalls over the past 15 calendar years only. If you’re shopping for an older car, then some information may not be included. Second, only incomplete safety recalls are listed. If a recall has been accomplished, the completion information will not show. Third, the information about a vehicle recalled is provided by the manufacturer. If a recall is new, those details may not yet appear. Certain international and low-volume manufacturers may not be included in the database.

Car Recalls: What You Need to Know

Consumers should never assume that they’ll receive a recall notice. Car manufacturers will send out notices to your last known address, but these may not get forwarded to your current address.

Also, if you’re not the original owner of the vehicle, the manufacturer may not know the car has changed hands. Use the Safercar.gov database to keep up with recalls or sign up for the free alert open recall alert from CARFAX. Your dealer’s repair shop will also have access to manufacturer recalls.

With tens of millions of cars recalled annually, there is a good chance yours will be included. Despite receiving such notices, defective cars only get repaired about two-thirds of the time according to the Insurance Journal. This means consumers regularly ignore such notices, potentially putting their families at risk.

Finally, when made aware of a recall, make an appointment with your dealer to have it fixed. Verify that the replacement part is on hand before taking time away from work or your other activities to have the recall accomplished.


  1. Consumer Reports: Takata Airbag Recall: Everything You Need to Know — http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/news/2016/05/everything-you-need-to-know-about-the-takata-air-bag-recall/index.htm
  2. The New York Times: Product Recalls Rise With Better Detection and Fewer Suppliers — http://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/30/business/product-recalls-rise-with-better-detection-and-fewer-suppliers.html
  3. Portland Press Herald: Automakers’ Reliability Scores Rise — http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/22/automakers-reliability-scores-rise/
  4. Toyota: If my vehicle requires a warranty repair, will Toyota provide me with a loaner vehicle? — http://toyota.custhelp.com/app/answers/detail/a_id/7653/~/if-my-vehicle-requires-a-warranty-repair,-will-toyota-provide-me-with-a-loaner
  5. NHTSA: Effective Today: New Federal law for recalled rental cars protects consumers from vehicle safety defects — http://www.nhtsa.gov/About+NHTSA/Press+Releases/nhtsa-rental-cars-law-06012016
  6. CNN Money: Rental companies now have to repair recalled cars — http://money.cnn.com/2016/06/01/news/companies/rental-car-recalls/
  7. Automotive News: Used-car loophole for recalls tightens up — http://www.autonews.com/article/20160208/RETAIL04/302089962/used-car-loophole-for-recalls-tightens-up
  8. SaferCar.gov: Recalls Look-up by VIN – Vehicle Identification Number — https://vinrcl.safercar.gov/vin/
  9. Parents: Car Seats Recalls — http://www.parents.com/product-recalls/car-seats/
  10. Insurance Journal: Automakers Frustrated Consumers Ignore Recall Repairs — http://www.insurancejournal.com/news/national/2015/04/29/365933.htm
Matthew Keegan

Leave a Comment