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What is a vehicle recalls and how can you check your car?

Millions of cars are recalled every year, with issues ranging from faulty windscreen wipers to major safety faults that could potentially cause fires. But how do you know if your vehicle is recalled?

What is a vehicle recall?

DVSA safety recalls might sound alarming, but they are extremely common and arise when a potentially dangerous issue is identified with a vehicle. When this happens the manufacturer will issue a national recall for all affected models.

Reasons for safety recalls can vary from small technical issues with windscreen wipers to major safety faults with airbags. In all cases, the vehicle will need to be checked by the manufacturer. This will usually take place at a local dealership.

How to find out if your car has been recalled

Manufacturers sometimes issue technical service bulletins (referrred to as TSB), so dealers can carry out remedial work when a car is in for service work. However, when the problem is safety-related, a full recall is the only way to ensure all owners are contacted.

The manufacturer will get in touch with the owners of any affected vehicles, using details from the DVLA. If your car needs to be recalled you should get a letter, phone call or email. 

The correspondence will explain what the issue is, how the manufacturer plans to fix it and who to contact to arrange for any checks or work to be carried out.

If your car is second-hand or if your contact details aren't up to date then the manufacturer might not be able to reach you. If you're unsure whether your car has been the subject of a recall, the best thing to do is to check at the VOSA recall search page.

You can also contact a dealership to check if there's anything outstanding for your vehicle. You'll need to give them your registration details and possibly your Vehicle Identification Number (VIN). This can be found on a plate under the bonnet or sometimes on the bottom of the windscreen.

We also list vehicle recalls in all our car reviews.

Should you be worried?

In most cases a recall is issued in anticipation of a problem that might arise – so there's usually minimal risk. However, the manufacturer should make it clear if there is any danger and, in rare cases, you may be asked not to drive until the car has been fixed.

While there are some instances - such as the 2015 recall of Vauxhall Zafira where there was a risk of fire and exploding airbags - that will cause owners concern, for the most part recalls are for smaller fixes to ensure reliability.

What you need to do next

If recall work is required, you will need to make an appointment with your local dealer. It has to be a franchised dealer – independent garages can’t carry out recall work.

Do you have to pay for recall work?

No. Recall fixes and checks are carried out free of charge. Although dealers may try to get you to undertake other work on your car when it's in for recall work. Only agree and pay for work that you're happy to have carried out and that you think your car requires.

What if the manufacturer doesn't contact you?

If your car is second hand or if your contact details aren't up to date then the manufacturer might not be able to reach you.

But you can check for recalls that affect your car on the DVSA website. You can also contact a dealership to check if there is anything outstanding for your vehicle. You'll need to give them your registration details and possibly your Vehicle Identification Number (VIN). 

Is there a time limit on recall work?

If you find out your vehicle needs recall work, it's sensible to get it fixed quickly. But if, for example, you buy a used car and discover it was meant to be recalled several years ago and wasn't, then the manufacturer is still obliged to fix the problem for free - no matter how old the vehicle is or when the recall was issued.

Will I get a courtesy car while recall work is carried out?

It depends on the length of time it takes for recall work to be carried. Depending on the fault it could be anything from a five-minute fix to something that takes several hours.

You're entitled to the use of a courtesy car if the recall work is expected to take a long time, but don't expect a dealer to always offer - you may have to be forthright and ask.

If there's a delay on parts needed for the work, there's a chance your car could be off the road for a longer period of time. In this case you will likely be offered a hire car, but it won't necessarily be a like for like match for your car. In this situation we'd suggest complaining to the dealer and manufacturer in question in order to get a car that suits your requirements.

Will a recall affect the value of your car?

As long as you have the work done, no it shouldn't do. But the bad press surrounding it could be another matter. The reputation of the second generation Vauxhall Zafira has arguably been damaged by incidents of fires caused by the heating system. While the risk is small, it's more than enough to put people off buying one.

In this case, prices have been affected and owner's might find it more difficult to sell. But generally, the only issue when selling would be if your car had been recalled and the work not carried out. 

What to do if you're unhappy with a recall

Recalls are covered by a code of practice. If you’re unhappy with the process you should complain to VOSA or your local Trading Standards.

Ask HJ

I bought a car from a main dealer and have discovered that outstanding recall work wasn't carried out - where do I stand?

Could you advise me where I stand regards recompense? A main dealer has sold me a used car (2016) when it has been discovered (since it has broken down in February this year) that there were two non-safety service recalls outstanding on the vehicle in 2015, one of them to replace the camshaft adjuster, the very part that has failed on this occasion causing the car to break down. The dealer would appear to have sold me the car on without carrying out the required remedial recall work. This could have been realised last May when I had the car serviced had I gone through a main dealer, though as I used my own trusted mechanic who hasn't access to SEAT systems, it was not obvious then.
Even though you have been using independent servicing, the TSB should have been carried out prior to your purchase of the car and you were sold a car that was not only effectively defective, the dealer should have known about it and was negligent in not checking that the TSB work had been carried out. So in my view the supplying dealer is liable under Clegg v Olle Andersson (trading as Nordic Marine), House of Lords, 2003. See: https://www.honestjohn.co.uk/faq/consumer-rights/
Answered by Honest John
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