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How to find out if your car has a safety recall

Last year was a big one for car recalls in the United States. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, automakers recalled a record 53.2 million vehicles in 2016. A big part of that is the infamous Takata airbag-inflator recall, which impacts millions of cars from major makers, including Honda, Toyota, Mazda, Fiat Chrysler and Subaru.

Automakers try to notify owners of safety recalls, but records aren’t always up-to-date and it can be easy to miss a letter sent in the mail. Fortunately, there are online resources for finding out if your vehicle is subject to a recall. Here’s how to do it:

Check for the Takata recall

The Takata recall covers 42 million vehicles from 19 different automakers in the U.S. The recall first surfaced several years ago but has steadily expanded since then. As of earlier in 2017, automakers had fixed over 16 million inflators. That still means a lot of faulty inflators, which are responsible for at least 11 deaths and around 180 injuries, are still on the road.

The AirBag Recall site lets you search by either VIN or license plate number to see if your vehicle is part of the recall. The site also highlights the highest-risk vehicles (which includes the 2001 Honda Accord and 2002 Acura TL) and warns that cars that have spent time in places with high heat and high humidity may also be at a greater risk of a malfunction.

You can download the Airbag Recall app for iOS or Android so you can easily conduct a search on your smartphone. This can be handy for checking on family members' vehicles.

Visit Safercar.gov

One of the easiest ways to check for a recall on your particular car is to head over to Safercar.gov, a site run by the U.S. Department of Transportation. Safercar.gov is chock full of crash ratings, tire safety tips, information on safety technologies, and child car-seat guidelines. It also links you to a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration page with a search-by-VIN feature.

If you have your vehicle identification number handy, then you’re good to go. If not, then you can find it on most vehicles by standing outside the front windshield and looking down at the lower drivers-side corner of the dashboard. It can be a little hidden, so look carefully. With older cars, it may be easiest to check your vehicle title or registration or look in your insurance documents.

Enter your 17-character VIN into the NHTSA recall search and it will pop up with the number and type of safety recalls that apply to your specific car. It’s a good idea to run the VIN when you buy a used car so you know if you will need to deal with any safety issues after you take ownership. The search tool covers the last 15 years of recalls, so be aware that older vehicles may not generate results from long-past recalls.

Just because your vehicle isn’t currently subject to a recall doesn’t mean that it will be immune to future recalls. The NHTSA also offers an email notification system if you want to receive alerts about recalls.

Go beyond vehicles

It’s not just cars that are subject to safety recalls. Child car seats, tires, and other automotive equipment are sometimes recalled. The NHTSA offers a broader search platform that includes recalls and complaints about these items (https://www-odi.nhtsa.dot.gov/owners/SearchSafetyIssues).

For car seats, you can search by brand name and model. The search engine will show recall information, including a summary of what the problem is and how to the manufacturer is dealing with it. Some search results will generate a list of consumer complaints rather than a full recall, but this can still be useful information if you’re trying to figure out if a piece of equipment or a set of tires has potential problems.

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