How to Check for Recalls on a Used Car in Canada


If you're in the market for a used car, one of the crucial steps in your buying journey is to check whether the vehicle has an open recall and, if so, confirm whether the necessary repairs have been carried out. Used car recalls are typically issued due to safety-related problems or potential hazards, and addressing these issues is vital for your safety and peace of mind. Unaddressed recalls could lead to accidents or even affect your car insurance rates.

It's important to note that, while car sellers are obligated to rectify recalls on new vehicles, the same does not apply to used cars in most regions. Dealers are often not legally required to repair used cars or inform buyers about recalls. This lack of regulation can leave you, the potential owner, responsible for investigating the car's history. Here's how to go about it in Canada.

How to Check for Recalls on a Used Car

To determine whether a used car has been subject to a recall, you can utilize the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) database, which is accessible online. You can search the database using the car's Vehicle Identification Number (VIN), typically located on the lower left part of the windshield, or you can use the make, model, and year of the vehicle if you don't have the VIN.

The NHTSA database contains information about vehicle safety recalls within the past 15 years, including recalls issued by major automakers, motorcycle manufacturers, and some medium and heavy-duty truck makers. If the specific VIN you look up has already had the recall issue addressed, it won't appear in the database.

However, if you're concerned about the safety of a used car you're considering, this information is invaluable. Keep in mind that the NHTSA database does not cover international vehicles and does not include customer service recalls.

Checking for Defect Investigations

If you don't find any recalls for the car, that's a positive start. However, there might be known issues that haven't reached the official recall stage yet. Recalls often begin as investigations. To stay informed about such issues, you can review the NHTSA's monthly investigation reports, which provide information about ongoing defect investigations.

It's possible that the car you're interested in is under investigation. If that's the case, follow the investigation to be aware of any potential recalls.

What to Do if a Used Car You Want Has a Recall

If the used car you desire is part of a recall, don't necessarily rule it out. The good news is that the repairs required for recalls should not incur any cost to the seller or buyer because the manufacturer covers safety recall fixes. Here are the steps to navigate a used car recall:

1. Obtain the Car's VIN: If you find a recall for the car's make, model, and year, request the car's VIN from the seller. Enter it in the recall section of the manufacturer's website to determine if that specific car is part of the recall. Some manufacturer websites also indicate whether the car has been repaired.

2. Get the Car Repaired: The seller may handle the repair for the used car recall. Recall laws can vary by province, meaning dealerships in your area may be legally obligated to perform repairs before selling you the vehicle.

3. Ask for Receipts: If the car has already undergone repairs, request documentation from the owner and review it carefully. Only dealers who carry that car brand are authorized to perform recall repairs, but independent mechanics can handle some car recall repairs at the owner's expense. If the dealer did not conduct the repairs, you may want to have them verified by a dealer through a used car inspection.

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