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The truth about car recalls

In 2014 about 62 million U.S. vehicles were recalled. That’s the equivalent of about four years’ worth of cars sold here, or about one out of every four cars on the road today.

Several recalls made huge headlines, including those for defective ignition switches in General Motors cars that have been linked to at least 50 deaths, and faulty Takata air bags, installed in Hondas and other brands, said to be responsible for at least five deaths and 64 injuries.

There could be even more recalls in 2015. The new head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), Mark Rosekind, told Consumer Reports, “If the system is working better to pick up [those defects] and we’re catching them sooner and more easily, we might actually see an increase.”

Most recalls, though, are initiated by the automakers themselves, who are, frankly, running scared. In 2013 the government began requiring them to be more diligent in alerting the feds to safety issues. Manufacturers who didn’t comply got hit with $126 million in fines by NHTSA last year, a record.

In some cases, owners don’t know there’s a problem because they bought their car used and the previous owner didn’t get the work done. Other times, automakers lose track of who owns the car because it has been sold and resold a few times.

For more about car safety, go to

  1. How do I find out whether my car has been recalled? Go to your vehicle manufacturer’s website or to, and plug in your vehicle identification number (VIN).
  2. How do I find out whether the used car I’m buying was recalled and the problem was fixed? Same as above.
  3. Should I worry about my car’s air bags? Any recall should be taken seriously. To get some perspective and learn about the greatest dangers, read “Everything You Need to Know About the Takata Air-Bag Recall.”
  4. How do I know whether my recalled car is safe to drive? If your car is unsafe, the recall notice from NHTSA or the manufacturer will say so in clear language.
  5. How do I file a complaint? Go to

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