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By Jim Adler October 15, 2015

Millions of vehicles are recalled in America each year, impacting millions of Americans. In fact, a record 62 million vehicles were recalled in 2014. But has your car been recalled? And if so, do you know what to do?

What is a Recall?

First, you should understand the nature of an auto recall. A recall is issued when car models have been found to have safety defects or lack of compliance with federal safety standards. A recall then is ordered either by the federal government’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) or voluntarily by the automaker.

The NHTSA gained the power to make auto safety recalls by 1966’s National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act, a federal law.

How Are You Notified?

Owners should receive a letter — or sometimes a phone call — informing them of the nature of the recall and what steps to take. Often this involves returning the car to the dealer where it was purchased, where repairs will be made free of charge to fix the safety defect.

An auto recall letter should include:

• Description of the vehicle’s defect

• Assessment of the dangers posed by the defect

• When the repair will be available

• How long repairs should take

• Instructions on what to do next

Keep in mind that if you purchased a used, previously owned vehicle, you are unlikely to receive such a letter, since the original owner’s name and address may be all that’s on record with the manufacturer and its dealers. In such cases you are dependent on news media recall reports or your own research.

That can include tracking recalls via the NHTSA’s website or by calling its auto safety hotline at 1-888-327-4236.

Online you can enter your car’s vehicle inspection number, or VIN, to determine if your vehicle has been included in an auto recall in the previous 15 years, and also whether repairs already have been made. The NHTSA has recall data on all vehicles sold in the U.S. since 1966.

You also can learn about unsafe or defective products via www.recalls.gov or by accessing major manufacturers’ recall databases. If you’re not the original owner, in the process you can alert the manufacturer about your ownership status, providing your name, address and VIN for future contact.

What Do You Do Next?

In many cases, massive auto recalls are big national news weeks before owners receive a notice in the mail. If you know that your car has been recalled but haven’t been contacted yet, contact the dealer to see if repairs can be made before you receive your notification. However, replacement parts often are not yet available when a recall is announced.

If your vehicle was among those recalled, you are eligible for free repairs, whether or not you received a notification. Also, all recalled vehicles are eligible for free repairs of the defect, whether or not they are still under warranty.

If you received a recall letter or learned otherwise that your car was recalled, you can proceed. Simply follow the instructions, which probably means contacting a dealer who sells the manufacturer’s vehicles and making an appointment to have your car repaired — free of charge.

Most recalls are available for the life of the product, so you’re under no time pressure to have defects repaired apart from the severity of the defect. An exception is when defective tires are recalled. Their owners have 60 days to get repairs or replacement tires.

The best advice is to have your vehicle repaired as soon as possible. Auto recalls wouldn’t be made if vehicles didn’t pose potential dangers due to defects.

Besides, the statute of limitations to receive a free repair is eight years from the vehicle’s original sale date. Beyond that you may be expected to pay for repairs or replacement parts. And if you had a defect fixed before a recall was announced, the manufacturer has no obligation to pay you back after a recall is issued.

How long will repairs take? That depends on the nature of the defect and the dealer’s workload at the time.

If someone in your family was injured by a defective automobile, notify Jim Adler & Associates for a free legal case review. Your family might be entitled to significant economic recovery for your losses.

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