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Some EV Recalls Are Serious, Others Not So Much. What to Know

 Some EV Recalls Are Serious, Others Not So Much. What to Know


It never feels good to get bad news about the vehicle you’re driving, especially in a blaring news headline. But anyone who owns an electric vehicle is likely to have experienced a recall. If it hasn’t happened to you yet, it probably will.

Statistically, EVs are more likely to be affected by recalls. In some cases, the electric vehicles are being made by new companies or companies using new technologies that haven’t had decades of improvements, unlike what you find with internal combustion cars.

But that doesn’t mean owners or potential buyers of electric vehicles should panic, even when companies like Tesla recall nearly their entire line of vehicles in the US for issues such as the Autopilot feature or the font size of warning lights

Should you take the necessary steps to address a problem with your vehicle? Absolutely. However, while the headlines can be scary, recalls don’t have to be. Here’s what you need to know about EV recalls should you face one.

The basics about car recalls

The US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has been issuing car recalls since the late 1960s, but not all recalls are created equal. The most important types are those that affect vehicle safety, such as issues with steering or brakes. In extreme cases, a “Do not drive” warning will be issued with a recall. In such a case, other options may include on-site repair, towing to the dealership, or pickup and delivery of a vehicle.

But if that warning isn’t included, it’s usually safe to drive a car to a service center to get the problem fixed. 

Paul Waatti, director of industry analysis at the auto research firm AutoPacific, said that even though there have been a lot of recent EV recalls, you don’t have as much to worry about as you might think. 

“A recall … automatically has a very negative connotation,” Waatti said. “A lot of times, automakers are getting out ahead of problems or just making sure there are no issues. Some of them, there’s not too much cause for concern; it could be something as simple as a small chip that needs to be replaced or a software-related issue.”

Some software issues that are the subject of a recall can be fixed with an over-the-air update. Others require a visit to a service center for a fix that could take hours or days.

“Overall, most of the recalls that we’ve seen lately aren’t really a threat to safety so much as an inconvenience,” Waatii said.

Yes, EVs are more recall-prone

If you’re an EV owner who thinks you’ve been noticing a large number of recalls targeting your type of vehicle, you’re right. Several studies of data have shown that despite still being a tiny fraction of overall vehicles on the road, EVs are statistically more likely to have recall issues than gas-engine vehicles. 

Some of those recalls may be due to new technologies that aren’t necessarily connected to actual driving: things like the entertainment system or a new door-handle design.

But that’s not always the case. Some of the more serious and high-profile EV recalls include all GM Chevrolet BoltsLucid’s recall of 2,000 sedans and Jaguar’s recall of its I-Pace cars, in addition to Tesla’s warning-light recall.

How to check for EV recalls

When a recall happens, automakers are required to make owners aware of the problem and offer a fix. If it’s a recall related to an urgent, life-threatening issue, it’s not uncommon for automakers to reach out directly by phone call or text message.

But notifying car owners about recalls isn’t a perfect process. Addresses and phone numbers change, and it may not be possible to contact an owner quickly, especially if a car has been resold.

You don’t have to wait to get notified about a recall to find out whether your vehicle is affected. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has a searchable database for recalls on vehicles, car seats, tires and equipment. Very recent recalls may not yet be up to date on the site for every VIN, or vehicle identification number, and international vehicles and some vehicles from ultra-luxury or specialty manufacturers may not be in the database. You can also search the NHTSA SaferCar app.

Consumer Reports has a car recall tracker that requires signing up for a CR membership (there’s a free tier). You simply enter in your car’s make, model and year, and any relevant recalls pop up. And the website InsideEVs has a news feed with stories about EV and hybrid recalls or other issues that may eventually become recall-worthy, such as recent issues that have arisen with Tesla Cybertruck wheel covers.

Getting your fix

A surprising number of recalled vehicles never get fixed, despite news stories and notifications from automakers and the NHTSA. According to the US Government Accountability Office and the NHTSA, only about 69% of passenger vehicles recalled in 2018 were repaired by the next year.

There can sometimes be obstacles to getting all the repairs. The easiest recall fixes can be done with an over-the-air software fix that’s sent to the vehicle. Other software fixes may require just a flash update at a service center.

Some physical repairs, however, may take weeks or months. And in some cases, an initial recall may not be enough to fix a problem, as seems to be happening now with some Ford E-Series vehicles.

Our advice? Be patient and persistent. Don’t give up on getting your recalled vehicle fixed.

If a recall is addressing an issue that you already had fixed, you’re typically entitled to a reimbursement from the automaker. They’ll want a receipt or other record of the repair.

Though some automakers may take longer to issue a recall while they explore solutions, it’s unlikely these days that a car manufacturer will knowingly avoid a recall over a safety issue, as has happened in the past. The faster spread of information among auto owners, particularly EV owners, means automakers take a bigger liability risk by delaying or trying to avoid recalls, Waatti said.

“Automakers have learned their lessons that these things are going to be way more costly in the long run if they try and brush it under the rug,” he said.



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