Has Your Car Been Recalled? What Consumers Need to Know

Has Your Car Been Recalled? What Consumers Need to Know

"The recall situation for the U.S. auto industry is a black eye," said Mike Jackson, president of nationwide car retailer AutoNation, Inc. "It's a dysfunctional nightmare that the industry should be ashamed of, and customers are right to be angry and confused."

That's from a guy who sells cars for a living. As a result, AutoNation has recently instituted a policy that it will no longer sell any car with an open recall - a policy that is likely to cost the company a substantial amount of money, since at any given time, there are usually open recalls on between 5 and 10 percent of AutoNation's inventory. 

But the problem is much bigger than AutoNation. Recalls even on new cars are on the increase - and just a few years after taxpayers funded a massive bailout of General Motors and Chrysler was acquired by Daimler-Benz (Ford refused the federal money), consumers are not at all happy with their cars. According to the American Customer Satisfaction Index Automobile Report, 15 out of 27 brands surveyed experienced drops in customer satisfaction ratings from just one year ago. Only Acura and BMW were able to improve their scores.

Furthermore, overall owner satisfaction has declined for the last three years in a row, and now stands at its lowest point -79 points out of 100 - since 2004.

Why? In part, you can blame recalls. Last year, auto manufacturers issued 64 million recalls, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration - an all-time record. Many of them were to fix potentially fatal defects. Meanwhile, GM CEO Mary Barra has been in the news, criticized for mishandling and possibly covering up a possible defect in GM ignition switches.

Is your car subject to a recall?

To see if your car is subject to an open recall, visit www.recalls.gov, and navigate to the Motor Vehicle Recalls page. You can search by make and model. To determine if your specific vehicle has an open recall that has not been corrected yet, you can also search for open recalls by VIN number, as well. This may be useful if you are considering purchasing a vehicle, or if you have recently acquired a vehicle, whether new or used.

You can also search for recalls of child safety seats, motor vehicle equipment and tires. And you can subscribe to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's recall notification alert system.

If you have safety concerns about a given make and model of vehicle, or safety seat or tire, you can also report it at the same page.

If your car has an open recall, you don't have to wait until you get a formal notice from the manufacturer. You should immediately contact your local authorized retail dealer of that make and model car for further instruction. Nearly all official dealers have service departments who will have been alerted to the recall, and who will have parts on hand - or shortly to arrive - to make the necessary repairs. Generally there is no cost to the consumer to take care of these recalls.

If you believe your car has a safety-related defect, though there has not been an official recall yet, and you get it fixed, save your receipt: You may be able to get reimbursed for what you spent to fix the issue if the vehicle is later recalled for that reason.