Cars are often recalled to be fixed – sometimes years after going on sale – but what does it mean, and should you be worried if your car is recalled?

Recalls affect thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of cars around the world every year, and many of those recalls affect Australian vehicles given all vehicles sold here are sourced from overseas. Some recalls are for relatively minor things, while some are for life-threatening safety issues, such as the Takata airbag recall.

For most car recalls, there is no reason to worry. Most safety recalls are for very minor issues that won’t have a catastrophic effect on your vehicle, but that doesn’t mean you should ignore them.

What happens if your car has a recall?

When a car is recalled, it will be listed on the Australian Product Safety website and the brand will send a letter to the owner of the vehicle to have it fixed free of charge at an authorised dealership. Even if you are not the first owner, there’s a good chance you’ll receive the letter if your details are registered to the vehicle’s registration plate and corresponding VIN number.

If the recall is minor, you might not get in straight away to have the car fixed, but when you do, it will always be free and there is no charge to the owner for parts and labour.

Car recalls, as you can imagine, can be ridiculously expensive for manufacturers both in terms of potential damage to reputation and the cost of actually carrying out the work and supplying new parts. While you won’t usually receive compensation for recall work being completed on your vehicle, all of the work and necessary parts should be performed/supplied free of charge. If you’ve had your vehicle serviced by an independent mechanic after the end of the initial service period, then you’ll have to go back to the main dealership to have the recall work performed… your around-the-corner mechanic can’t do it.

The serious car recalls

One of the most serious recalls in automotive history is still ongoing and relates to faulty Takata airbag units used in millions of vehicles around the world, including over three million vehicles on the road in Australia. It is the biggest recall in Australian automotive history, and nearly all of those vehicles have been fixed.

However, given the severity of some of the airbag units – the Alpha inflator which has resulted in many deaths – the need to address this recall is dire, and Australian state governments in fact took the step of banning re-registration of vehicles is the recall was not addressed. 

This recall was so widespread that some manufacturers offered compensation in exchange for buying back cars, as there were so many vehicles affected.

Ultimately, a car recall isn’t a terribly serious issue though, with only a few cars being recalled actually affected by the ‘issue’. That said, it pays to be vigilant and if you do receive a recall notice then don’t ignore it, act on it.


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Practical Motoring

The team of journalists at Practical Motoring bring decades of automotive and machinery industry experience. From car and motorbike journalists to mechanical expertise, we like to use tools of the trade both behind the computer and in the workshop.


  1. I don’t know granted some recalls are serious but there appear to be a rush of recalls for small inconsequential issue that a cynical mind might suggest do no harm to reputation (and may even enhance it) that they serve to repatriate vehicle service work back to the dealer network. Some of these recalls would run at a profit.

  2. we actually had an issue, where our 2009 dodge journey just stopped working. We had dreadful experience with the dealer, we were told it was the alternator and didnt hear anything back from them for about 8 days with multiple calls with no response. Finally after we escalated to the dealership management we were told it was the wireless communicator and would cost $500. We were okay with that , but then 15 minutes later we were called back and told that the part had to be ordered from the US and would cost $1500. We were not happy with this , so we did a google search and found the recall. We rang Dodge head office and confirmed. Next thing we know it was fixed within 2 days at no charge. A really good result.
    But it makes you wonder , why didnt the registered Dodge servicer know bout the recall? And how many others had not been aware of the recall and had to fork our their hard earned money? Dodge should do an Audit of their dealerships to see if the recalled part had been sold /installed to others rather than under the recall. Potentially a dodgy dealer could be scamming Dodge owners and also Dodge by double charging as a warranty fix.

    1. HI Darren, I’m glad the situation was resolved, but you’re right about recalls. We’re currently discussing with the ACCC what ‘real’ onus there is on dealers to contact owners, and what responsibility lies with the owner to have the recall work performed… Let you know what we learn. Isaac

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