If you're searching for a used car, you may have heard the term "technical service bulletin," or TSB. So what exactly are technical service bulletins? How will they affect your car? And how do they differ from a recall? We have a few answers to help you understand this commonly confused automotive item.

Defining Technical Service Bulletin

Many shoppers hear technical service bulletin along with "recall," but the two are very different. A recall is a government-mandated action that requires automakers to repair a safety-related defect for free. But a TSB comes from the manufacturer to address a common defect -- unrelated to safety -- in a particular vehicle. TSB repairs aren't necessarily done for free. Instead, the bulletin simply provides dealerships with guidance on how to repair a common problem.

How Do I Find TSBs?

While recalls are posted on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) website, technical service bulletins can be harder to track down. Our advice: Once you've narrowed your search to the vehicle you want, call the dealership to see if there are any technical service bulletins for that car. If there are, you'll want the dealership -- or a mechanic -- to check and see if they've been performed.

Paying for TSB Repairs

The main reason it's important to see if any technical service bulletins have been addressed before buying a car is that you may have to pay for TSB repairs. That's different from recalls, which are performed for free.

Sometimes, however, TSB repairs are done free of charge. This is always the case when a car is under warranty, and sometimes even if the car is out of warranty. If you're buying a used car, you'll have to check with your dealership to see if any outstanding TSBs will result in out-of-pocket costs.

Should I Buy a Car With TSBs?

Technical service bulletins are common in the auto industry, so we don't suggest you pass on a car just because it has a TSB. We do suggest discovering what TSBs relate to the car you want before you buy it. That way, you can negotiate with the seller in case you have to pay for repairs.

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Doug DeMuro has a wide range of automotive industry experience, from work at a Ferrari dealership to a manager for Porsche North America. A lifelong car enthusiast, Doug's eclectic vehicle purchases include a Porsche 911 Turbo, an E63 AMG wagon, an old Range Rover and a Mercedes Benz G-wagen.

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