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What to Expect When an Automaker Finds Defects

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Buying a new car doesn't guarantee the vehicle will be without problems. Manufacturers issue recalls when an automotive defect is found that could pose a danger to drivers or passengers. In fact, 2014 was a record-breaking year for car recalls in the U.S., with more than 60 million vehicles affected by approximately 700 announcements.

The Recall Process
Any number of problems can incite a recall - from malfunctioning accelerators to defective steering parts and everything in between.

Once issues are discovered, automakers are legally required to send recall letters to the registered owner of each vehicle detailing what's wrong, the risks posed, and where the vehicle can be serviced. The notice will also inclue a list of potential warning signs to help determine if a vehicle requires immediate attention.

When the problem is less serious, the automaker sends a service bulletin to dealers, notifying them of the concern and outlining how to resolve it. Often referred to as "secret warranties," these announcements usually go unpublicized since the issues don't pose a threat to safety.

A manufacturer who issues a recall notice to drivers, or a service bulletin to dealers, accepts the financial liability for the recall-related repairs as long as a designated dealership or repair site services the vehicle.

How to Stay Aware of Recalls
Before buying a car manufactured in the last 10 years, check for recalls online. Search the recall database maintained by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to determine if recalls have been issued or if a particular vehicle has missed necessary recall-related repairs.

If you think your vehicle has a safety defect, report it to the NHTSA so potential safety hazards can be investigated and addressed. If the NHTSA receives enough complaints on a specific make and model, the government agency will launch an investigation.