Here’s Why Some Car Recalls Are Announced Without a Fix, According to Consumer Reports

When automakers put out recall notices, owners are required to take the vehicle to a dealer or certified outlet to get it fixed. Often the car is repaired free of charge, but if it’s too old, the owner may have to pay. That said, car manufacturers will sometimes send out recall notices for problems that can’t be fixed. Why do they do that, and what do you do with an unfixable car?

How to find out about vehicle recalls

The easiest way to find out about a recall is through communication from your car’s manufacturers. Automakers are legally obligated to notify you of any problems regarding your vehicle. It can be through a letter, email, or phone call.

However, according to an NBC News article, one in six cars on the road in 2016 featured unresolved recalls. A more recent piece by CNET claims that the number has since risen to one in four in 2022, implying that many owners seem to miss these official communications. As such, it’s best to check your vehicle’s status occasionally.

The NHTSA offers a VIN search tool that should tell you whether your vehicle is on the recall list. Your vehicle’s VIN is the 17-character vehicle identification number printed on the lower driver’s side corner of your windshield. Other places to find your VIN include your insurance card and vehicle registration.

There’s also the NHTSA’s SaferCar app that can notify you directly of a recall notice on your car.  

Why automakers send recall notices for unfixable problems

As mentioned above, manufacturers are legally required to send out notices as soon as they discover and confirm a safety defect. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration also helps send these notices out. Sometimes this precedes the availability of a solution. After all, consumers still need to be warned so they can take necessary precautions.

In the case of the 2020-2022 Chevy Bolt EVs, for instance, Consumer Reports notes the batteries could catch fire if charged to full or near full capacity. As such, owners might be wiser to charge them to half capacity or less or avoid using the vehicles altogether. They wouldn’t know to do this without the recall notices, which helps minimize the risk of injury.

As for why automakers can’t fix some of these problems, it may be because of supply chain issues or because the manufacturer hasn’t identified the root cause of the problem.

Your options if you have an unfixable problem on a recalled car

A car safety recall notice letter delivered by mail in the U.K.
A car safety recall notice letter | Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
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Immediately after confirming a standing recall on your vehicle, you should contact your dealership and request more information. Is it something that will stop you from using your car safely, or is it a minor compliance issue? If it’s the latter, you may be able to use the vehicle as usual until you can get it fixed.

If it’s a major car safety problem, you can ask for a loaner car to drive at the automaker’s cost. Car manufacturers like Chevrolet have previously approved payments to dealerships for loaners.

If your dealer isn’t offering any solutions, contact the manufacturer directly for updates, including how long you have to wait for a fix. If the fix takes too long, you may need to ask your dealership to repurchase the vehicle under the Lemon Law.

Contacting the NHTSA directly can also help pressure the automaker into doing right by you.

Lastly, some dealerships and automakers will be reluctant to act, in which case threatening legal action and even going as far as acquiring the services of a lawyer may be prudent.