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The Car Coach: Understanding Car Recalls and Technical Service Bulletins

Written By | May 6, 2021
Car Coach, Recalls, Technical Service Bulletins

Lauren Fix, The Car Coac

MICHIGAN: Vehicle recalls and technical service bulletins happen all the time. Whether for critical safety repairs or for other manufacturing faults. It is important to know whether you have a reason for concern if your car is recalled and what you should do in the event. TSB’s and recalls are two things that are used to deal with these issues.

What are car recalls?

A recall happens when the manufacturer or the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration or NHTSA has documentation that a vehicle, its equipment, seats, or tires create a safety risk, or it fails to meet minimum safety standards, and the units affected are called back to fix the problem. However, not all car problems warrant recalls. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) may also issue recalls for emissions-related problems. NHTSA can fine an auto manufacturer if a manufacturer does not disclose car defects or if they downplay the seriousness.

This is what happened with GM and the ignition switch failure, Toyota unintended acceleration, Takata air bags and the Volkswagen emissions issue, to name a few.

If your car is affected by a recall, you must return to dealerships to have it repaired. It can not be repaired by an independent repair shop.




Carmakers usually initiate car safety recalls once car defects and/or malfunctions have been identified, either in the factory or from feedback from dealers or customers. NHTSA also receives car complaints directly from the public and investigates them. If the automaker has not issued a recall and NHTSA issue the recall itself.


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If there is a recall automakers send out notices though the mail, titled ‘Safety Recall Notice’, which lists the defects, risks, and action required. You can also check NHTSA.gov or SaferCar.gov; where you can look up your car’s Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) to check for recalls. Remember, that second and third owners, might not receive the notice. You will need your 17-digit vehicle identification number for the repair.

Be aware: some recalls require that you stop driving your vehicle immediately until the repair is done.

If you are buying a used car, make sure to check the NHTSA and Safer Car.gov websites for any outstanding recalls.

What are Technical Service Bulletins?

Recalls should not be confused with technical service bulletins (TSBs) which are issued by the manufacturer for less serious problems that affect the normal operation of the vehicle. TSBs cover known problems and provide repair instructions for service technicians at the dealerships.

Unlike recall-related repairs, which are performed on a no-questions-asked basis, TSB repairs are made only to resolve problems that can be verified by dealer; these repairs will be free of charge if the vehicle is still under warranty.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration tracks TSBs as well. You can use this information to communicate with the service department.

Even if you buy a used car, you are eligible for the recalls or the TSBs if its under warranty

In the USA, all safety-recall repairs on cars up to 15 years old must be free. Older vehicles might still be covered; for example, the Takata airbag recall covered cars from 1995.

Car Recalls and Technical Service Bulletins  bottom line? 

Recalls are not the end of the world and a repaired car should be perfectly safe to drive and as good as any other vehicle. Be sure to save the paperwork as proof when selling or trading in your car.



It is important to know whether you have a reason for concern if your car is recalled or you receive a TSB in the mail. Here’s what you need to know.

Watch the video review. We show you everything you need to know. If you have additional questions, put them in the comments below and I’ll be happy to answer.

Don’t forget to check out our all-new website Car Coach Reports

There are more features and design information that we cover in our video review. Check out the Car Coach Reports Ratings on this video before you buy any vehicle.

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Lauren Fix

Lauren Fix, The Car Coach®, is a nationally recognized automotive expert, analyst, author, and television host. A trusted car expert, Lauren provides an insider’s perspective on a wide range of automotive topics and aspects, energy, industry, consumer news and safety issues.