Don't Be Stranded by a Missed Recall Notice

You're driving along a lonely stretch of road miles from nowhere when the noise begins. As it gets louder, a terrible question jumps into your mind: did you remember to check the recall notices on the car you're driving?

If your answer is "no," you could be in for a rude shock. Recalls, often issued for relatively insignificant issues such as windshield wiper malfunctions, sometimes relate to the operation of the engine itself. To ignore such recall notices could leave you stranded.

Keep up with recall notices and you can get your car fixed before things go this wrong.

Keep up with recall notices and you can get your car fixed before things go this wrong.

Typically, you will be notified of recalls on your car in two ways:

  1. A written notice mailed directly to the owner of the car.
  2. The dealer tells you a recall is in effect when the car is brought in for maintenance.
Unfortunately, this system of notification is by no means foolproof. Owners are sometimes left unaware that recalls exist on their cars. The defect goes unrepaired. And motorists are left stranded.

Honda Motor Company, known for building the most reliable cars on the market today, recently issued a recall for a misaligned timing belt tensioner pulley on the water pump on some 17,500 2003 Honda Pilots made during July 2002. As the recall notice states, the misaligned tensioner pulley "could cause the timing belt to contact a bolt on the cylinder head. Eventually the belt could be damaged and fail." The consequence of this? "The engine will stall, increasing the risk of a crash."

Naturally, Honda is not anxious to publicize the fact that one of its vehicles was manufactured with a defect. However, owners should have been informed by one or both of the above methods and obtained the necessary repairs before the situation becomes critical. That's the way the system is supposed to work, anyway. In reality, some owners were not informed and were left stranded by the side of the road. For a more detailed account of one such recall notification lapse and subsequent breakdown, read "The Road Warrior, Breakdown and Twister."

Of course, all manufacturers — not just Honda — have to issue recalls on their vehicles at one time or another. Yet, the owner notification process remains imperfect in many cases. In fact, Honda's legendary reputation for dependability makes the recent situation that much more surprising. And it underscores the need for motorists to take matters into their own hands.

Instead of merely waiting to be notified by the manufacturer, or alerted during a maintenance visit, owners should periodically check for recalls themselves. Recall information is available in our Maintenance Guide, along with a wealth of information about how to service and maintain your vehicle. Recall notices are posted weekly on

Additionally, you can call the dealership and ask a service advisor to run your vehicle identification number (VIN) through the computer system. Another source for recall information is the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) which is responsible for investigating possible design and manufacturing defects. For more information on NHTSA's role, read "Recalls, Technical Service Bulletins, and Other Good Stuff."

Checking for recalls on your vehicle will only take you a few moments. Breaking down by the side of the road will take you hours, or days, to get back up to speed and may require major repairs. As always, planning ahead has its rewards.