How to Check if Your Car Was Recalled (And What Happens Next)
Receiving a car recall notification can take you by surprise and leave you anxious. A car recall is when there is a safety defect identified by your car’s manufacturer that requires correction. This usually means bringing your car in to get the issue fixed at a manufacturer-approved mechanic.
It's quite a common scenario. In fact, each year millions of vehicles on the road in Canada will require a recall. If you’re unfamiliar with how car recalls work, what to do when you receive one, and how you can find out whether your car has been recalled, we’ve provided all the resources and guidance to help you.
How automakers announce recalls
Auto manufacturers are legally required to release a car recall notification when, according to Section 10 of Canada’s Motor Vehicle Safety Act, “any defect in the design, manufacture or functioning of the vehicle or equipment that affects or is likely to affect the safety of any person.”
If there is a defect the manufacturer will notify Transport Canada first and then proceed to alert registered owners of the vehicle. This is usually in the form of a letter in the mail. There are rare instances when Transport Canada will identify a defect first and force the car manufacturer to respond accordingly. Transport Canada also monitors for vehicle tire recalls and child car seat recalls.
When a recall goes out, the manufacturer will typically provide the necessary repairs free of charge. The owner, however, is responsible for scheduling the repair and bringing the car in to an authorized mechanic.
How do I check if my car was recalled?
When a recall notification is distributed, it usually goes to registered owners of the vehicle. If you purchased your vehicle used, and did not register it with the manufacturer, chances are you may not get the notification.
The best way to avoid missing recalls is by registering with the manufacturer or monitor updates from Transport Canada.
It should be said that most recalls are minor in nature with little threat to safety. However, it’s important to find out if a vehicle has a recall—big or small. One simple way to find out if your vehicle has been recalled is to reference the Motor Vehicle Safety Recalls Database. It’s easy to use—simply input your vehicle’s make, model, and year. If you don’t know the exact year, you can enter a range.
Another method of looking up recalls is by visiting the manufacturer’s recall website. You will need your vehicle identification number (VIN). Here’s a list of manufacturer recall websites:
Select your brand and enter your 17-character Vehicle Identification Number (VIN). Your VIN can be found on at the corner your car's dashboard (driver's side).
My car has been recalled. What happens next?
There’s no reason to panic if you receive a notification in the mail that your car has been recalled. It doesn’t mean you are driving a ticking time bomb. That said, you should schedule an appointment as soon as possible to have the issue addressed. This is not only for your safety, and your passengers, but for everyone else that shares the road with you; not to mention anyone who may own the car after you.
The recall notification should include a description of the problem and the safety risk. It should also include steps you need to follow to fix the problem, which usually means a visit to the dealership service centre or authorized mechanic.
Do I have to pay for a car recall, or is it free?
A car recall is no fault of yours and you won’t have to pay for any related mechanical service. Simply contact the specified dealership or authorized mechanic on your recall notice and schedule an appointment for the free service. If the dealership needs to hold your vehicle for a significant amount of time while they do work, ask for a loaner vehicle so you are not stranded without transportation.
If you did not receive a notice but discovered a recall, then you need to contact your local franchised dealership and make an appointment with their service department. Remember, you can use either your manufacturer’s website or Transport Canada’s database to find a recall.
Do car recalls expire?
When a car has an outstanding safety recall, a situation where an owner did not get the vehicle serviced to correct the defect, it is considered an open recall. Recalls do not expire, but the timeframe where manufacturers are obligated to notify drivers of a safety defect is limited to a couple of years.
Before you buy a used car it’s important to check if the vehicle has any open recalls from the previous owner. This kind of information will show up on a vehicle history report, which many dealerships will have available, free of charge. If you are buying in the private marketplace, there is less chance that the seller will provide the vehicle history report, so make sure you ask the right questions and do your own research.
Should I buy a car with a recall?
It is not uncommon to find a used car for sale with open recalls. Currently it is not mandatory in any province for cars with open recalls to be fixed prior to registration. This is because recalls don’t fall under safety and mechanical inspections. Sellers, including dealerships, are not required to repair open recalls before selling a vehicle.
It’s important to always check the vehicle history report before making a purchasing decision on a used car. If you see one open recall it probably shouldn’t deter you. If you see a whole list of open recalls, you might think twice about the quality of that particular make and model.
What car company has the most recalls?
Ford has had the most recalls so far in 2022, according to various reports. One report cited 40 recalls this year, with as many as 650,000 trucks and SUVs being recalled due to inoperative windshield wipers. Ford also recalled almost 400,000 vehicles in Canada this year due to an issue with gear shifters. Check out our list of other recent manufacturer recalls.
What is the Takata airbag recall?
One of the largest recalls in automotive history was the Takata airbag recall that began in 2013. The Japanese auto parts maker initially recalled 3.6 million cars due to defective airbags. The number of recalls associated with those airbags has grown substantially since. Transport Canada has provided a list of all recalls regarding Takata airbags dating back to 2008.