Vehicle recalls, make sure your car is fit for long-distance travel



Rear view of couple traveling through car.

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A recall on your vehicle can derail your travel plans, depending on the issue at hand. 

It’s an issue plenty of drivers have to consider this fall. Subaru, Volkswagen, General Motors, Mercedes-Benz, Toyota and Honda Motor are among the vehicle manufacturers that have issued recall notices with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in November — collectively affecting more than 2.3 million vehicles.

Among those, Toyota recalled nearly 1.9 million RAV4s to fix a battery issue that could potentially cause a fire. Honda Motor issued a recall last week on nearly 250,000 Honda and Acura vehicles due to a manufacturing error that may cause engine damage.

Luckily, “recalls are covered repairs by the automaker at no cost to the consumer,” said Tom McParland, contributing writer for automotive website Jalopnik and operator of vehicle-buying service Automatch Consulting. If a driver’s vehicle was recalled, they should make an appointment at their local dealer for the repair.

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Yet, as many Americans prepare to drive long distances to see family and loved ones for the holiday weekend, travel plans may need to change depending on the severity of a recall affecting your vehicle, experts say. 

Recalls occur ‘when there haven’t been any incidents’

Sometimes the government can compel automakers to recall their vehicles, but these notices usually occur after multiple people report the same problem or the automaker finds a flaw in the manufacturing process after an investigation, said Brian Moody, executive editor for Kelley Blue Book.

“It’s common for there to be a recall when there haven’t been any incidents yet,” said Moody.

Once the recall notice is issued, the manufacturer will send out mailed notifications to drivers, but those can arrive weeks or months later.

For example, the NHTSA notices say owner notification letters for Honda’s Nov. 2 steering control recall are expected to be mailed Dec. 18. For the Nov. 16 recall on damaged engines, drivers should expect to receive a notification on Jan. 2, 2024.

If you hear about a recall in the news, it can help to call the dealer or the automaker’s customer service line to determine if your car is affected, experts say.

“It’s not always that a recall applies equally to every single version of a model that you have. There may be limitations,” Moody said.

Travel plans ‘will depend on the nature of the recall’

As to whether or not travel plans should be altered, the decision will depend on the nature of the recall, said McParland.

“If the recall says possible transmission failure, that’s a lot more risky for long-distance travel versus a glitchy navigation system,” McParland said.

If you decide to rent a car instead of driving your own due to a recall notice, it’s unlikely to be reimbursed by the automaker.

“Usually rentals are not covered” as part of the recall repair, McParland said.

While some insurance policies may have a breakdown coverage and may provide rentals if the vehicle is in the shop for a major recall service, it is not the norm.

“It’s worth calling your carrier to ask,” added McParland.

It is more common for luxury automakers to provide their customers with loaner cars. Otherwise, it is up to the individual dealership or the manufacturer’s terms of sale, Moody said.

Here are three tips to help drivers navigate recalls:

1. Figure out if your car is affected

“There is a government database where folks can look up if their car is impacted by the recall,” McParland said. Drivers can put in their VIN into the NHTSA site. It will pull up all the recalls your car model has had, said Moody.

To see if the recall was already addressed, you can either check the government website or look through the manufacturer site, said Moody.

Drivers can also look into different online resources in addition to the government data, Moody said. Other website services can help you locate nearby repair shops and typical car issues your model may have.

If you receive a mailed notification from the manufacturer, follow the instructions and call your dealership as soon as you can.

2. Book an appointment ‘as soon as possible’

If your car is affected by a recall, “you want to make an appointment as soon as possible,” Moody said.

While the repair will be completed at no cost to the consumer, some dealers may have a backlog of appointments for a certain issue, said McParland. “An immediate repair may not be available,” he said.

3. Check if a mechanic is covered under the warranty

If you are facing a backlog of recall appointments at your local dealer and would opt to take the vehicle elsewhere for a faster service, ask the manufacturer first, said Moody. Contact customer service and explain your situation. The company may be able to cover the recall repair done by outside official channels, he said.

Otherwise, the rule of thumb for a recall is to take your vehicle to your local dealership of that automaker. There is a system in place where the manufacturer reimburses the local dealer and the service is free for the customer, Moody said.

Altogether, if you don’t know what the recall is for or don’t understand what the affected car part does, call your local dealer or manufacturer to ask, especially before you head out on a long trip.

“If you see something like ‘may lose control’, or ‘vehicle fire’ … maybe don’t drive until you find out for sure if the car is covered,” Moody said.

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