3 Types of Motor Vehicle Recalls

Mandatory Recalls, Voluntary Recalls, and Technical Safety Bulletins

Possible Ford Explorer Recall Impacts U.S. Police Departments
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There are three types of motor vehicle recalls safety-defects that are mandatory recalls; voluntary recalls; and technical service bulletins (TSBs). There are important differences between the three. as described below.

Safety-Related Defect Mandatory Recalls and Voluntary Recalls

The first type of motor vehicle recall is when a vehicle has a safety-related defect as determined by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHSTA).

This is regarded as a mandatory recall and is generally quite serious. Legally, any repairs made under this safety recall must be paid for by the manufacturer of the vehicle. For example, the Takata Air Bag Recall affected millions of vehicles, and repairs on affected cars went on for years. 

Voluntary Recalls

A voluntary recall is when the manufacturer recalls vehicles for a defect that could affect safety. It is voluntary on the part of the manufacturer, who generally issues the recall in order to limit his liability and prevent the NHSTA from taking the serious step of issuing a legally mandated recall. Here, too, any repairs made under a recall are paid for by the manufacturer.

Technical Service Bulletins

A Technical Service Bulletin (TSB) is issued when a known problem or condition exists in a certain vehicle or group of related vehicles. The bulletin contains information on the recommended repair for that problem.

A TSB can also be issued to notify dealerships of diagnostic procedure changes, modified or improved parts, or service manual revisions and updates.

TSBs are "Reimbursable within the provisions of the warranty." This means if the vehicle is within its warranty period, a repair as outlined by the TSB is paid for by the manufacturer.

If the vehicle is out of warranty, the customer is responsible for the repairs.

If you receive a notice that your vehicle has a service bulletin outstanding, and you should bring it in for repair. But manufacturers do not always alert owners directly about these suggested repairs, but instead may only alert the dealer's service department. This means that If you normally take your vehicle to an independent service shop or do most servicing yourself, you may not be aware of the service bulletins. As a result, you may miss out on repairs that would have been done as warranty service.

Checking for Mandatory or Voluntary Recalls

The NHSTA website has the ability for vehicle owners to search for recalls by the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN). They suggest that vehicle owners check twice per year to see if any recalls have been issued that affect them. When considering buying a used vehicle, this search will also show whether or not the defect has been repaired in the past 15 years. No matter when a recall was made, how old the vehicle is, and how many owners it has had, the repair will be made to the vehicle. Recalls do not expire, whether they are mandatory or voluntary.

Checking for Technical Service Bulletins

In addition to searching for recalls, investigations, and complaints, the NHSTA site also allows you to search for TSBs by vehicle make, model, year and VIN number.

You can also use the search functions at SaferCar.gov, where you can order technical service bulletins by selecting "Request Research." However, fees may be charged at SaferCar.gov, and it can take weeks to get the bulletin by mail.

To avoid fees and gain access to the bulletins faster, you may want to note the identification number of the bulletin and contact a dealer's service center to request to see the bulletin or contact the vehicle manufacturer directly to request it. If your vehicle has an enthusiast website or forum, the bulletins may also be available there.