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How to Check for Recalls When Buying a Used Car

If you’re looking for a car, chances are good that you’re concerned about reliability and safety. For shoppers interested in a used car, that can mean checking to see if any outstanding recalls have been performed. But how can you find out if the used car you want has been recalled? And more important, how can you tell if the recall has been performed? We have a few tips to help.

What’s a Recall?

To start, it’s important to know what a recall is. In the automotive industry, a recall is a government-mandated action that an automaker must take to address a safety defect. While many drivers think a recall applies to mechanical issues, that’s only true if those issues could affect vehicle safety. In other words, any car with “open recalls” — meaning those that haven’t been completed — could have a potentially dangerous safety defect.

Discovering Recalls

As you narrow your used-car search, we strongly recommend visiting the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) website to learn whether the cars you’re considering have been recalled. This is under the NHTSA’s “Vehicle Safety” tab, though it can also be found by searching for NHTSA recalls. NHTSA’s site lets you search by make, model and year.

Is Your Next Car on the List?

If you find the car you want on the recall list, there are a few steps you can take to be sure a recall has been performed. First, call a dealership that specializes in the brand you want and provide the dealer with the car’s VIN number. Since dealers must perform recalls, the dealer you call can check its databases to see if the car is up to date.

Mechanics Can Help

If you want to make sure all recall work has been completed, we suggest taking the car to a mechanic — an important step in many used-car transactions. Using the information on NHTSA’s website, tell the mechanic to check if any recalls have been performed. Coupled with a call to the dealer, this should give you the peace of mind you’re looking for and bring you one step closer to buying your next car.

Doug Demuro
Doug Demuro
Doug DeMuro writes articles and makes videos, mainly about cars. Doug was born in Denver, Colorado, and received an economics degree from Emory University in Atlanta. After graduation, Doug spent three years working for Porsche Cars North America. Eventually, he quit his job to become a writer, largely because it meant that he no longer had to wear pants. Doug’s work has been featured in a... Read More about Doug Demuro

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