Chances are, if you own a car or have watched the news lately, you are familiar with vehicle recall notices issued by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) for vehicle defects that can potentially be dangerous. A safety recall can either be initiated by a NHTSA investigation or by the manufacturer. Once aware of a potential safety issue, the manufacturer is obligated to notify the owner that the vehicle has a problem that affects its safety. The owner then can have the car fixed, free of charge.
What I was surprised to learn back when I bought my first car is that this strict notification system only applies to safety issues – not technical service bulletins or other issues not affecting driver or passenger safety. A “technical service bulletin” is created by the manufacturer and deals with parts or service issues that have cropped up after a vehicle is manufactured, but that typically do not affect the car’s safety.
In my case, a few years ago I took my then new car to the dealer because the MIL (malfunction indicator light) kept coming on. An annoying problem, but the car seemed to drive fine otherwise. Once the problem was identified (a defective mass airflow sensor) it was easily fixed – but the dealer wanted to charge me several hundred dollars for the fix. Fortunately, the nice person at the counter looked up the service bulletin for my year and model and was able to quickly determine that the part was defective and that the dealer was replacing these parts free of charge.
I was fortunate that I had an honest counter representative, but others may not be so lucky. I can see how a person could be taken advantage of in this situation. Fortunately, NHTSA maintains a database of all technical service bulletins for all makes and models and there are other web sites that provide a similar service.
So, if your MIL comes on or your car is performing poorly, go online and see if there are any technical service bulletins for your car. It could mean the difference between and expensive fix and a free one.