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What Is a Recall and How It Is Different From a Technical Service Bulletin

Published on March 12, 2012 under Humble Mechanic

Since VW issued a few new updates last week, it seems like a perfect time to talk about recalls, and what that actually means.

If you peruse the VW Facebook page, or any other platform that people can complain(cough “vw forum” cough), you will find that so many people think that any repair should be a recall. As we all know, just because something is broken, doesn’t mean it warrants a recall. So what the heck is a recall anyway? I did some research and had a hard time finding a definitive answer. So you get my interpretation of what a recall is. To me a recall is,

A vehicle repair that is required to maintain safe operation of a vehicle. A known issue has been identified by the NTSB, and the car manufacturer is required to notify customers of an outstanding repair.

Here are the key things you need to understand about a recall.

  1. The car manufacturer will notify customers of the issue and repair
  2. They are generally a safety related issue, but not always
  3. There will not be a charge for the repair

So does that mean if you get a flat tire, you should have a recall on your car? NOPE! Does it mean that a car company put the cup holder above the radio, and because YOU spilled coffee into the radio the company has to fix it? Yet again, not so much, even though it was a stupid design. 😉 Yep, everything is not a recall. I would recommend not fretting though, just because your car has a recall does not mean that you are in danger.

I remember VW had a recall on some of the A5(2005-2007) Golf and Jetta. My wife called me asking how many cars had headlights that have caught on fire. Well would you believe that we have not had ANY headlights catch on fire? She had seen a segment on the news talking about Jetta and Golf headlights. The news said something completely stupid about headlights and now they would explode(or something equally stupid). It turns out, we installed caps in the adjusters. No big deal. Recalls can expire, so make sure you have your information on file with the manufacturer.

Technical Service Bulletin (TSB)
Now we have Technical Service Bulletins, or TSBs for short. A TSB is issued by the manufacturer, but not mandated by the government. Basically all a TSB does is give a mechanics information to make a repair. It does not mean ANYTHING beyond that. There is no warranty associated with a TSB. There are people that will argue that if a manufacturer issues a TSB, they know there is a problem. If they know there is a problem, then the manufacturer should pay for the repair. I say it is worth a phone call, to ask if they will help you out. Officially, a TSB only give repair information, NOTHING else.

Required Vehicle Update (RVU)
I am not sure if other car companies have this, but I know VW does. A RVU is somewhere between a recall and a TSB. Customers are not notified about the repair, but they don’t have to pay for the repair. There are a lot of software updates done this way.

Every time a customer brings thier car to my dealer, we check for all open recalls, and RVUs. TSBs are only used if a customers car has a certain issue. It can be sort of confusing, but if you bring your car to a good dealer, they should be checking these things for you. If you DIY, give your local dealer a call and ask them to check your VIN(vehicle identification number) and check for any open recalls.

I hope that clears up Recalls, TSBs and other releases of information.
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4 Comments

  1. Jeremy

    I always thought that Saab or at least GM would do a recall on their amps because on Saabs they put them under the drivers seat and I would say about 65%-70% of the cars need new amps. I know it’s not a safety issue but it’s a flaw in their design.

    It might be a little too late now for Saab to issue a recall haha

  2. Kevin

    I had a customer ask me why a tsb wasn’t under warranty the other day. 2002 with 186,000 miles. Haha. I know. The way I explained it is recalls are generally safety issues that may or may not be regulated by our awesome government and the highway safety people. Tsb’s and rvu’s are sent out and regulated by vw of America. Some recalls/rvu’s are only available under new vehicle warranty or federal emissions warranty. If you don’t know the difference in warrantys in sure that’s a conversation for another day. Hope this helps. Good article Charles.

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