It's as simple as finding your VIN and visiting NHTSA's website.
Emme HallFormer editor for CNET Cars
I love two-seater, RWD convertibles and own a 2004 Mazdaspeed Miata for pavement fun and a lifted 2001 Miata for pre-running. I race air-cooled Volkswagens in desert races like the Mint 400 and the Baja 1000. I have won the Rebelle Rally, seven-day navigational challenge, twice and I am the only driver to compete in an EV, the Rivian R1T.
Following stints in TV news production and as a record company publicist, Chris spent most of his career in automotive publishing. Mentored by Automobile Magazine founder David E. Davis Jr., Paukert succeeded Davis as editor-in-chief of Winding Road, a pioneering e-mag, before serving as Autoblog's executive editor from 2008 to 2015.
Chris is a Webby and Telly award-winning video producer and has served on the jury of the North American Car and Truck of the Year awards. He joined the CNET team in 2015, bringing a small cache of odd, underappreciated cars with him.
Your car may be part of a recall this very moment and you may have no idea. Car recalls happen far more often than you may realize, so it's a good idea to check on your car's status every once in a while. Automakers are required by law to send out recall alerts to owners, which they do by mail, email and sometimes over the phone, but these notices can be pretty easy to miss. Still, keeping tabs on open recalls is actually a very simple process. Remember, whether you purchased a car new or used, or owned it for months or years, open recalls happen all the time -- and you're entitled to a repair for your car, truck or SUV.
Luckily there are just a few simple steps to follow to check if your car is affected by a recall.
1. Locate your VIN
Think of your car's unique 17-character vehicle identification number, or VIN, like your vehicle's serial number. By law, every vehicle built since 1981 has its VIN printed behind the lower driver's side corner of the windshield, as pictured above. However, you can also find your VIN on your vehicle registration or insurance card, or on a placard on the driver's door jamb.
If you prefer to avoid typing out all those letters and numbers, there are several third-party apps available for both iOS and Android where you use your phone to scan your vehicle's bar code (often located on the windshield or in a door jamb) and they can automatically scan for recall information. Many of these apps will also tell you all about your particular vehicle's specifications and maintenance history.
2. Check NHTSA's database
The US government works with automakers to report, track and share recalls through the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Your first step is to check out the federal agency's recall page, nhtsa.gov/recalls, and enter your VIN. If nothing comes up, you're golden. If any open recalls do populate, move on to our third and final step.
You can also use NHTSA's site to check on vehicle-related products, including as car seats, tires or auxiliary equipment, as well as recalls for motorcycles and motorhomes.
If going to the NHTSA web page on your own time seems like a drag, download the SaferCar app and add your vehicle and VIN. The app will automatically alert you if your car has a recall, pushing an alert to your phone once NHTSA files the recall documents for public viewing. What's really cool is you can also add car seats, tires and other equipment to the app and get an alert if any of those products need fixing as well.
4. Schedule service with your dealer
Your local dealership can perform recall work; simply schedule an appointment. Some recalls are more urgent than others, but regardless, you shouldn't wait to have this important work completed. In some cases, the dealer can even arrange to have your vehicle towed if the matter is particularly serious. No matter the type or extent of the recall, all repair work is completed at no cost to you, the owner.
NHTSA says that one in four vehicles on the road has an unrepaired recall. You owe it to the safety of yourself and your family to stay on top of your car's recall status.