In a typical year, more than 1 million cars are affected by a car manufacturer recall under the UK Safety Recall Scheme. On the face of it, this can appear worrying, but this is not necessarily the case.

Vehicle manufacturers are legally obliged to inform the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) if they identify safety-related problems. When this happens, a recall is issued if the fault is likely to affect the “safe operation” of the car.”

There are two levels of recalls for cars. 

  • ‘Stop Drive Recall’ – This is known as the highest recall level; such notices are rare. Cars labelled as ‘Stop Drive’ should not be driven.
  • ‘Safety Recall’ – This is the most common kind of recall. Manufacturers order this when they believe the vehicle in question (or one of its component parts) may present some safety issues. Unlike the first kind of recall, the car in question can continue to be driven ‘unless informed otherwise’ by the manufacturer. 

Safety recalls and car buying

Regulation requires that all motor retailers, regardless of scale, ensure that the vehicles they sell have no outstanding safety recalls. If they don’t undertake an appropriate check and ensure any required work is completed, then they can be prosecuted by Trading Standards.

Post purchase recalls

Manufacturers will send out technical service bulletins, allowing dealers to carry out remedial work. However, if the problem is safety-related, a full recall is the only way to ensure all owners are contacted.

The manufacturer will contact the owners of any affected vehicles using details from the DVLA. As the contact relates to a safety issue, the use of personal data held by the DVLA is permitted for this purpose.

Contact by the manufacturer will usually come in the form of a letter. This correspondence will explain the issue, how the manufacturer plans to fix it and who to contact to arrange for any checks or work to be undertaken.

Manufacturers will only issue a safety recall for those defects which have the potential to cause serious injury. These defects can potentially put drivers, passengers, or other road users in danger if not acted upon.

It is important to stress that if a Safety Recall notice is received, it must be acted upon by the registered keeper because they are legally responsible for ensuring that the vehicle is maintained in a safe condition and that a defective car is not being driven.

A safety recall is usually free of charge.

A real-world issue is that if a used car was purchased privately or if the owner's address details are not up to date), the manufacturer might not be able to make contact. The good news is that it is quick and easy to establish if any outstanding recalls exist on a specific car for most brands.

By entering the car registration number at this government website, it is possible to check a car’s MOT status and details of any recalls.

If the manufacturer is not part of the Recall Scheme and this can be checked at the Motor Ombudsman website, it should be possible to obtain information on any outstanding recalls on a vehicle by contacting the manufacturer or one of their main dealers directly.

Beyond the government website, other online resources, which may incur a fee, are available to check other details of a vehicle’s history, including details of any insurance write-offs and any existing finance that may still be in place. For peace of mind, these can be of real value, especially if a car is not being purchased from a retailer.

Debbie McKay, Commercial Sales Director

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