Motor Vehicle Recalls vs. Technical Service Bulletin

How a Recall Differs from a Technical Safety Bulletin

There are three types of motor vehicle recalls. They differ in who issues the recall or bulletin and who is responsible for the costs of repairs.

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 would be a Mandatory Recall.

Any repairs made under this safety recall would be paid for by the manufacturer. For example, the Takata Air Bag Recall affected millions of vehicles.

A Voluntary Recall is when the manufacturer recalls vehicles for a defect that could affect safety. Any repairs made under a recall are paid for by the manufacturer.

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 int he 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.

Technical Service Bulletin - TSB

A Technical Service Bulletin (TSB) is issued when a known problem or condition exists in a certain vehicle(s).

The bulletin contains a 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.

You may receive a notice that your vehicle has a service bulletin outstanding, and you should bring it in for repair. But manufacturers may not alert owners to these suggested repairs, only the dealer's service department. 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.

Technical Service Bulletin Search

The NHSTA site has a search by vehicle make, model, year and VIN for manufacturer communications as well as recalls, investigations, and complaints. Use the search at You can order technical service bulletins from the website by selecting "Request Research." However, fees may be charged, and it can take weeks to get the bulletin by mail. 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 be available there.