What you need to know about car recalls

Is the vehicle in your garage a safety threat? Here's how you can find out which cars have been recalled and learn if yours is one of them.

By MSN Money Partner Jun 16, 2014 1:26PM

This post comes from Maryalene LaPonsie at partner site Money Talks News.

Money Talks News on MSN MoneyThe recall of millions of vehicles this year has meant congressional hearings, fired GM executives, and prolonged heartache for the families of people killed because of defects. (GM attributes 13 deaths to faulty ignition switches, but others say the number is much higher.)

While the GM recalls -- 16.5 million vehicles, including 3.1 million for faulty switches -- are garnering the most press, it certainly isn't the only automaker calling back its vehicles for repairs. Toyota, Mercedes-Benz and Ford have all recently issued recalls. In fact, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that there were 14 manufacturer recalls in the first 10 days of June alone.

Most vehicle recalls don't get picked up by the media, so it's up to you to do some legwork and make sure your vehicle doesn't have any safety issues. So here's what you need to know.

Has your car been recalled?

The NHTSA recorded more than 700 safety recalls in 2013, meaning nearly 22 million vehicles were found to have some type of safety defect. And that's just in the last year.

Even more startling is the fact that millions of cars are bought and sold without these defects ever being corrected. An analysis by Carfax indicates that more than 3.5 million vehicles were listed for sale in 2013 that were subject to a recall but had not yet been repaired.

How can you protect yourself and your family?

Manufacturers send notices to vehicle owners of any safety defect, but the best way to be sure your vehicle isn't subject to a recall is to head to the NHTSA website. The agency posts recall information on its website, but you'll also want to head to the search page on SaferCar.gov to look for your particular vehicle.

Right now, you can search by vehicle year, model and make, but later this year you should also be able to simply type in your vehicle identification number or VIN to find any recalls  affecting your car, truck or van. If you don’t want to wait, you can already search by VIN on many manufacturer websites. If you have a Toyota or GM vehicle -- the two companies with the most current recalls -- you can head to the Toyota recall center or the GM recall center.

Meanwhile, back at SaferCar.gov, you can also search for recalls involving child restraints, tires and other equipment.

What to do if your car has a recall

The answer to this is easy: Take it to a dealership, any dealership, as soon as possible for a fix. Depending on the recall, you might want to take the vehicle off the road until you can get it into the shop.

If your car is less than 10 years old, any safety-related recall repair should be totally free. However, once your vehicle passes the 10-year mark, you may be on the hook for paying for the work.

In the event you already paid to have the defect fixed prior to the recall, you may be eligible for a refund. However, the repair must have occurred within one year of the NHTSA opening an engineering analysis of the vehicle or within two years of when the manufacturer notifies the government of the defect.

Mature mechanic working under car bonnet in garage, side view © Sam Jordash, Digital Vision, Getty ImagesEither way, you need to get your reimbursement request submitted within 10 days of the mailing date of the last recall notification sent by manufacturers to owners.

How else to protect yourself and your family

Finally, when car shopping, be sure to take the time to search for any recalls listed for the vehicle you're eyeing.

If you find a recall, ask for proof that the vehicle was repaired.

And go ahead and take that one step further too. Ask the dealer or person selling the car to provide a written statement that the vehicle hasn't been in a serious accident. If a car has been in an accident, ask for proof of repairs. Keep in mind, some damage caused by an accident can be just as dangerous as a safety defect subject to a recall.

Was your vehicle one of the millions recalled by GM or Toyota? Tell us your story in the comments below.

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