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How do vehicle recalls work?

In some years several million vehicles are affected by recalls to change or update parts to fix safey problems. Vehicles are complex machines and it’s very difficult to eliminate 100% of the weaknesses. Some of these are minor, but occasionally a major recall is issued where a fault might be life threatening.

Recalls encompass vehicles:

  • Cars
  • Motorbikes
  • Caravans
  • Horse boxes
  • Agricultural equipment
  • Lorries
  • Buses, coaches and minibuses

And they also include vehicle parts and accessories:

  • Child car seats
  • Seat belts and harnesses
  • Tyres
  • Components and parts

How recalls work

As vehicles are registered, it’s possible for the manufacturer to get in touch with the owner by letter which will contain instructions (what the fault is, what you should do and who you should contact). You might also see it in the news and on social media. Manufacturers usually recall vehicles when they become aware of a safety problem. They almost always pay for the repair, too.

With large recalls with grave safety concerns you may need to wait some time if there’s a backlog of fixes to be applied, and it may not be possible to drive your vehicle during this time because you are legally responsible to keep your vehicle in a safe condition. Once a recall is issued, if you drive it knowing that there’s a safety issue, your insurance might be invalidated if you have an accident.

If you drive a vehicle that is in a dangerous condition you could be banned from driving and the fine is up to £2,500.

Takata, a Japanese airbag manufacturer suffered a huge recall with potentially 85 million airbag installations at risk

In the case of accessories, parts, car seats and tyres, there’s often no registration (although some manufacturers have voluntary registration outside of what the government provides). This means that they can’t always trace the owner and rely on the media to get the word out.

If you are concerned whether vehicles and accessories you own are subject to a recall, use this website to check.

How to report serious safety defects

If you find a serious defect that affects the safety of your vehicle, one of its parts, or an accessory, report it to the manufacturer immediately.

What is a serious safety defect?

If a defect is likely to cause injury or death and is likely to happen suddenly and without warning then it is a serious defect. You must contact the manufacturer if you find a serious safety defect.

If the fault is with a part or accessory that means it could become unsafe in the future if it’s not fixed or it means it no longer meets the legal standard, you must register the fault with DVSA. Other types of faults don’t need to be registered with DVSA.

What is a minor safety defect?

Minor safety defects are:

  • Faults that can be found during routine maintenance and servicing
  • Faults that cause warning lights to be illuminated on your dashboard
  • Unusual noises
  • Changes in handling
  • Problems caused by you misusing your vehicle (e.g. overloading)

Tell DVSA if you’re not happy with how the manufacturer is dealing with your report of a serious safety defect.

Do you have to get faults fixed?

As long as your vehicle still meets MOT standards and is not unsafe, then the choice is yours. However, it might not meet MOT standards in the future and could degrade and become unsafe.

Get new recall alerts

You can sign up for email alerts to get a monthly summary of the latest recalls.


Darren has owned several companies in the automotive, advertising and education industries. He has run driving theory educational websites since 2010.

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