When a car is under recall, it means there’s a safety-related issue that needs to be repaired. From car batteries short-circuiting to faulty door latch systems, car recalls are common. According to its most recent public data, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that upwards of 30 million cars were recalled in 2017. But most of the time recalls don’t make the headlines. So how do you know if your vehicle’s been issued a recall notice? It’s easier than you might think. Let’s break it down.

Have you been notified?

Repairs associated with recalls are typically performed at a dealership, and at the manufacturer’s expense. Automakers are required by law to contact owners of vehicles that have been issued a recall. So if you’re the registered owner of a vehicle with a recall notice, you should receive a first-class letter in the mail letting you know. But for many reasons notifications don’t always reach car owners. This can have very scary implications: the NHTSA estimates more than 50 million vehicles are being driven with unresolved safety issues. But don’t fret.

Get your VIN

Luckily, there are simple steps you can take to quickly check if your car’s ever been issued a recall notice. First, you’ll need to find your vehicle identification number (VIN). It’s a unique 17-character number located on your vehicle’s registration or insurance ID card. You can also find your VIN on the bottom corner of the driver’s side windshield.

Search the NHTSA Database

The NHTSA has a page dedicated to searching for vehicle recalls. All you’ll need is your car’s VIN. The tool will let you know:

  • If a vehicle’s been recalled within the last 15 years and hasn’t been repaired
  • Details about the vehicle recall (this also includes motorcycle manufacturers)

Just note that the tool doesn’t show information on repaired safety recalls, or vehicle recalls that date back more than 15 years.

Check the manufacturer’s online recall portals

Many carmakers offer their own online recall portals, some of which do go back further than the NHTSA’s 15 years. These also allow you to search for recalls by VIN.

Sign up for recall alerts

For extra peace of mind, sign up for the NHTSA’s recall notification email system [www.nhtsa.gov/alerts.]

If necessary, schedule repairs

If you find out your car needs repairs due to a recall, don’t hesitate to schedule a repair with your local dealership. In most cases, as long as your car is less than 15 years old, the repair will be free. Older cars that are in need of a repair due to a recall may need to be repaired at the owner’s expense.

Remember: once you’ve been notified of a car safety defect or a recall, it becomes your responsibility to get your car repaired. Ignoring it puts you and other drivers on the road at risk. So be proactive about keeping track of vehicle recalls and making timely repairs.

And while you’re at it, make sure your car is covered. Get a quick, free auto quote from Esurance today — and see how we’re making insurance surprisingly painless.

Safe and smart | Car safety


about Rebecca

Rebecca is a freelance copywriter and editor living in the SF Bay Area with her husband and two kids. She enjoys productively channeling her anxiety into safety-minded articles for home and garden, running with her robot trainer, and advocating on behalf of the Oxford comma.