If an auto manufacturer determines that there is a common flaw in a certain component of some of their automobiles, they may issue a recall. Typically, in a recall situation, every owner of a recalled car is entitled to a repair or replacement at no charge. If you're not sure if your car has any active recalls, finding out is relatively simple. It all starts with the VIN, which is a unique numerical code identifying your car.
Approach the driver's side of your car from the outside. Look through the windshield at the front driver's side corner, right where the windshield meets the dashboard. You should see a small metal plate screwed into the dash, and there should be a long code printed on the plate.
Write down the entire VIN.
Look in your local phone directory or online to find a local dealership of your make of vehicle. If there is a separate number for the service department of that dealership, take note of that number.
Call the dealership and, if you're not already connected with the service department, ask to be transferred there. Then ask the receptionist in the service department if he can look up your VIN to see if there are any recalls. They should have access to a comprehensive database of VINs from which to pull any recall information, and they should also be able to give you any details on how to act on an active recall by telling you over the phone.
When an auto manufacturer announces a recall, it is required to inform all affected drivers of the recall. Manufacturers typically do this by sending a letter in the mail to every address associated with the title of each car affected by the recall, but they also often send out press releases that get picked up and spread through the news media. If you believe your vehicle has an engineering flaw and there is no recall for the car, you can file a complaint with the National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration by calling them at (888) DASH-2-DOT. If the NHTSA receives enough complaints about a specific issue, it will initiate an investigation that may ultimately force a recall.
There are many services that provide extensive written vehicle histories to customers who provide VINs, and these reports would include any recall information. However, the companies that provide these services charge fees for their reports, whereas the auto dealerships are obligated to provide recall information for free.