What to do if your car is recalled

Volkswagen, Toyota and Mitsubishi have been involved in some pretty big recalls of late. If you’re not familiar with what the term means, Andy Enright explains what a recall is, and what it can mean for your car.

mechanic examining underneath car

Everyone seems to be doing it. Recalling cars, that is. Volkswagen’s now infamous ‘Dieselgate’ scandal last year saw a proposal to recall up to 11 million cars worldwide and we’ve already seen Toyota and Mitsubishi issue large-scale recalls in Australia to fix faulty systems. So what happens if you’re one of those affected by a recall?

So what’s a recall?

A recall occurs when a car manufacturer detects a fault in the cars it has sold. In order to maintain the safety of their products, they will require the cars to be brought in to the dealership for the fault to be rectified. It’s not just cars that are subject to recalls.

Toyota Accelerator Pedal recall

How often do they occur?

More often than you’d think. Of course, the big recalls attract media attention, but smaller-scale fixes are instigated all the time. Even Toyota, usually seen as a paragon of reliability, has issued 68 recalls in Australia in the last decade. Mercedes-Benz has clocked up 82. If you think that’s a lot, you’re right. In 2013, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in the US tightened up regulations around recalls, fining car manufacturers who didn’t alert them to potential safety issues. This increase in recalls has spread globally. 

There’s recalls, and then there are recalls

Although Volkswagen was hauled over the coals for its fiddling of emissions figures, nobody was claiming the cars were in any way unsafe to drive. That’s not the case with all recalls. At the most extreme end of the scale, the manufacturer might issue a ‘do not drive’ directive. Porsche took this decision when its 911 GT3 models started catching fire, subsequently fitting every one of the cars with a new engine. If your car is subject to a recall, the manufacturer will assess the risk and notify you accordingly. 

Porsche 911 GT3

How much will it cost me?

It shouldn’t cost you anything. The vast majority of recall work is for very minor technical issues. Mitsubishi’s huge recall this month was largely concerned with connectors in the lighting system that could, over time, corrode and no longer function.  It’s a part that costs a few cents to change out and Mitsubishi reckoned that each vehicle would take thirty minutes to repair. 

How will I know if my vehicle is recalled?

Manufacturers will usually contact you by mail to let you know that your car is being recalled. That’s all well and good if you’re the first owner of the vehicle. If you bought it as a used car, it might well be worth visiting the website of the ACCC and looking up your vehicle. 

Volkswagen TDI Bluemotion

If I ignore the recall, does it affect my warranty?

Yes, people do ignore recalls with such regularity, there’s even a term for it – recall fatigue. Put bluntly, people get fed up taking their cars back to dealers for what they see as trivial fixes. It’s best to observe them for the sake of safety and the sanctity of your warranty. Some manufacturers will look for wiggle room when dealing with expensive warranty claims, so it pays to make sure you’ve honoured your side of the deal as a responsible owner.


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