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 has probably experienced a recall. If it hasn’t happened to you yet, it probably will.

Statistically, electric vehicles are more likely to be affected by recalls. In some cases, the electric vehicles are made by new companies or companies using new technologies that have not undergone 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 as companies like Tesla recall nearly their entire line of vehicles in the U.S. over issues like the Autopilot feature or the font size of warning lights.

Do you need to take the necessary steps to resolve a problem with your vehicle? Absolute. While the headlines can be scary, recalls don’t have to be. Here’s what you need to know about electric vehicle recalls, if you’re faced with one.

The Basics of Car Recalls

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NSA) has been conducting automotive recalls since the late 1960s, but not all recalls are the same. The most important types are those that affect vehicle safety, such as problems with steering or braking. In extreme cases, a recall will trigger a “Do not drive” warning. In such a case, other options may include on-site repair, towing to the dealer, or vehicle pickup and delivery.

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

Paul Waatti, director of industry analysis at automotive research firm AutoPacific, said that even though there have been many recent electric vehicle recalls, there’s not as much to worry about as you might think.

“A recall… automatically has a very negative connotation,” Waatti said. “Car manufacturers often anticipate problems or simply ensure that there are no problems. Some of these aren’t too much of a 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 resolved with an over-the-air update. Others require a visit to a service center for a repair that can take hours or days.

“Overall, most of the recalls we’ve seen lately are less of a safety threat and more of an inconvenience,” Waatii said.

Yes, EVs are more susceptible to recalls

If you’re an EV owner and think you’ve noticed a large number of recalls targeting your type of vehicle, you’re right. Several data studies have shown that, despite still being a small portion of the total number of vehicles on the road, EVs are statistically more likely to experience recall issues than gasoline-powered vehicles.

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

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

How to check for electric vehicle recalls

When a recall occurs, automakers are required to notify owners of the problem and offer a solution. If the recall is related to an urgent, life-threatening issue, it is not unusual for automakers to reach out directly via phone call or text message.

But informing car owners about recalls is not 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 for a recall notification to find out if your vehicle is affected. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has a searchable database for vehicle, car seat, tire and equipment recalls. 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 you to sign up for a CR membership (there’s a free tier). You simply enter the make, model and year of your car and any relevant recalls will appear. 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 occurred with Tesla Cybertruck hubcaps.

Getting your fix

A surprising number of recalled vehicles are never repaired, despite news stories and reports from automakers and the NHTSA. According to the U.S. Government Accountability Office and NHTSA, only about 69% of passenger vehicles recalled in 2018 were repaired the following year.

There can sometimes be obstacles in getting all the repairs done. The simplest repair solutions can be accomplished with an over-the-air software fix sent to the vehicle. Other software solutions may only require a flash update at a service center.

However, some physical repairs can take weeks or months. And in some cases, an initial recall may not be enough to solve a problem, as seems to be the case now with some Ford E-Series vehicles.

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

If a recall addresses a problem that you have already resolved, you are generally entitled to compensation from the automaker. They want a receipt or other proof of the repair.

While some automakers may take longer to issue a recall while they investigate solutions, it is unlikely today that an automaker will knowingly avoid a recall due to a safety issue, as has happened in the past. The faster spread of information among car owners, especially EV owners, means automakers are taking on a greater liability risk by delaying or trying to avoid recalls, Waatti said.

“Automakers have learned their lesson that these things are going to be much more expensive in the long run if they try to sweep it under the rug,” he said.

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