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Auto Recalls and Service Bulletins

How Auto Recalls, Service Bulletins and Service Actions Differ

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Auto Recalls

Nearly everyone has heard the word recall, but some may not understand how the term applies to the automotive industry. Recalls bring a specific group of vehicles into a dealership in order to perform a no-cost repair for a problem that relates to safety. For example, a steering part could have a weakness that makes it prone to crack, a defect related to an engine might cause the truck or car to stall or catch fire, or perhaps a seatbelt doesn't latch properly. Each of those examples are safety-related, and could prompt a recall if they affect a group of vehicles.

Recalls can be voluntary (initiated by the manufacturer) or mandated (required by the government, usually after an investigation of owner complaints). The National Highway Traffic Safety Board (NHTSB) regulates and monitors all automotive recalls.

Typically, a recall repair is performed one time to correct the concern (although sometimes a temporary repair is made when parts are not available for a serious issue). Recalls do not expire, regardless of a vehicle's age or the number of miles it's been driven -- if the previous owner of your car or truck didn't respond to a recall notice, you can still have it repaired. Manufacturers do a pretty good job of monitoring current owners of recalled autos, so don't be surprised if you receive a notice after buying a used vehicle.

Service Actions

Service Actions are usually repairs or revisions that a manufacturer decides to perform, but on a smaller scale than a recall. The manufacturer might limit a process to an auto's normal warranty period, or decide to offer it for an extended period of time. The manufacturer decides whether to notify all owners of affected vehicles or to handle problems individually when (or if) an issue arises.

Service Bulletins

Service Bulletins are informational documents that manufacturers send to dealers to either help diagnose problems or to notify them of production changes or upgrades that apply to previous models. One example -- the manufacturer finds that programming the engine's computer differently will make a vehicle perform better or run more smoothly. Programming is changed on new vehicles produced from that date forward, and a Service Bulletin is sent out to alert dealer service departments of the change, instructing technicians to install the later programing if certain vehicles come into the shop with the problem that initiated the change. There is no obligation to notify all owners or perform the programming on all of the earlier vehicles.

Service Bulletin repairs are normally covered by warranty only while a vehicle is in its original warranty period.

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