Keeping your car up and running is something you just have to worry about less and less these days. The technology and build quality of the cars we drive has improved vastly, with manufacturers more and more confident in the integrity of the cars they sell. Some are even willing to offer warranties of five, six or even seven years in length.

But there is something that can happen that means no amounts of TLC or maintenance work can prevent. A recall. Having your car recalled can be an extremely stressful time for any car driver. So what do you do? Here’s our guide to help you understand what to do if your car is recalled.

What is a recall?

A recall happens when a car manufacturer detects a fault in one of their models that could affect every car in the range. These can range from something that will cause your car to breakdown through no fault of your own, to something that is potentially dangerous.

These faults have normally escaped the rigorous product testing that car companies put their vehicles through. So it could be a fault in a certain component that couldn’t be replicated in testing conditions. It might be detected within a few months of a model’s release, or it could be several years before the fault is found. Either way, it must be very serious for a car manufacturer to issue a recall, as the publicity is often always negative, even if the company is trying to fix a dangerous issue.

How often do recalls happen?

You’d be surprised at how many car recalls are issued each year. While not on the scale of some of the biggest recalls – Ford had to recall 25 million Ford Rangers in the 1980s – the variety of different car engines and components available these days means that there is more to potentially breakdown.

Just last year, BMW had to issue a recall for almost 300,000 of their diesel engine cars after detecting a potentially catastrophic leak in one of their exhaust systems, making the car a fire risk. The fault was so severe, owners were advised not to drive their vehicle at all until BMW could source and supply a repair for the issue.

But 300,000 was small compared to Toyota having to issue a recall for 3.4 million of their vehicles worldwide, and Volkswagen and SEAT had to fix a seatbelt issue in their Polo, Arona and Ibiza range that had the potential to leave their cars very dangerous.

Types of recall

A car manufacturer will issue one of several types of recall. The most severe of these is the ‘Stop Drive Recall’. This is exactly what it says, an announcement that all owners of the cars in question should immediately stop using their vehicle. The fault is so severe that the car cannot be safely driven.

The next level down is a “Safety Recall”. This means that the manufacturer or vehicle examiner has detected an issue in the car that has the potential to cause a safety issue, but not to the extent that a car is unsafe to drive. It means that the fault needs to be fixed, but you just need to be careful, you don’t need to stop driving.

There are recalls that happen beneath these levels that don’t always require so much drastic action. After all, a car manufacturer will do what it can to prevent having to expensively repair their cars if possible. These recalls may be a notice to drivers not to use a specific feature, or to be aware of an issue with a different component, e.g. cruise control. Not ideal, but it’s better to be aware of a problem that could happen than not.

What to do if your car is recalled?

If you bought your car from a main agent, you are likely to be contacted directly if your car is going to be recalled. They may ask you to bring it to one of their approved garages or back to the showroom, where they will explain what needs to be done as they repair the fault. You might be able to have your car fixed straight away, or you might be on a waiting list. There’s no guarantee that the dealer will provide you with a courtesy car in the meantime, especially if the number of cars they have to repair is large.

What you should do is to check the details of your agreement with the dealer carefully. Go over the contract, check the warranty, look for any terminology that covers recalls. You have to remember that recalls are expensive, so the manufacturer will be weighing up whether its cheaper to repair or take the hit to their reputation.

You may also want to speak to your insurer, to see if they cover having your car off the road for a long amount of time. There may be explicit conditions when it comes to a recall. If you have fully comprehensive and car hire protection, then you may be able to get something to get you around while you wait.

What if your car is second hand?

If a fault is detected, the car manufacturer has an obligation to contact every registered keeper of the make and model in the country. They will do this by contacting the DVLA for details on every driver who has the car, whether it was bought new or used.

The letter they send will inform you of the severity of the issue, as well as any steps you can take as a driver to ensure it doesn’t become dangerous. They should also give you details of a local franchise that will be able to repair the car free of charge. This should come as some relief as many wrongly think that once a car has been sold by the original owner, it loses all protections.

A car manufacturer has a certain obligation to inform people of the fault, but over the years, this can be lost, especially if a previous owner has ignored the notice letter. The good news is that, when your car is tested for the MOT, any recalls will be registered and you will be informed then of the need for repair. The question is, will it still be repaired for free? Unfortunately, that is something you will have to check with the manufacturer.

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