Safety Recalls

How car manufacturers deal with safety defects

Every year close to a million vehicles are called back to dealers under the official safety recall scheme

Every year close to a million vehicles are called back to dealers under the official safety recall scheme

Every year close to a million vehicles are called back to dealers for a safety check and/or rectification work under the official vehicle safety recall scheme.

The official recall scheme is overseen by the Vehicle Safety Branch of the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA), working in close cooperation with vehicle and component manufacturers and the DVLA.

A code of practice (Vehicle safety defects and recalls:code of practice) defines the scope of the scheme and describes what happens when a potential safety defect is identified in vehicles supplied in the UK.

A safety recall is a pro-active action taken when a safety defect is identified which could result in serious injury.

The official recall scheme applies to a wide range of vehicle types from passenger cars, commercial vehicles and buses/coaches to trailers, agricultural vehicles, motorhomes and caravans.  It also covers two and three wheelers.

Over recent years recalls have most commonly concerned brakes, fuel, airbags, steering, risk of fire, and seat belts.

Safety defect

A safety defect is a failure due to design and/or construction, common to a number of vehicles, which is likely to affect safe operation and pose a significant risk to the driver, occupants or others.

Such defects involve sudden and catastrophic failure with little or no warning to enable the driver to take preventative action, and cannot normally be identified by routine maintenance or obvious changes to the vehicle’s normal handling or performance.

Recall notification

Where a safety defect has been identified and registered the manufacturer or importer will liaise closely with DVSA and DVLA and write to registered keepers of affected vehicles explaining clearly:

  • what the defect is
  • what can happen if it's not attended to
  • what action (repair) is required
  • what action you should take

Notice will normally be by first class letter from the manufacturer or dealer.

The manufacturer must report response rates to DVSA at three month intervals but the safety recall stays open indefinitely and a customer’s recall work should be undertaken free of charge regardless of the length of time that has elapsed after the notification letter.

If you receive a recall notice

You must ensure that your vehicle is maintained in a safe and roadworthy condition, so if you ignore a safety recall you could be commiting an offence of using a defective vehicle.  Ignoring a safety recall could also affect any insurance claim you might make.

It's important to act promptly so that you don't put yourself, your passengers and others at risk. Follow the instructions given by the manufacturer in the letter.

If you've sold the vehicle recently, make sure you inform DVLA so that their records are up-to-date and to ensure that the new keeper will be contacted.

When you buy a used car

If you buy from a dealer then they should check for any outstanding recalls as part of their pre-sales preparation of the vehicle to ensure that it is in a roadworthy condition.

If you buy privately it is possible that a past recall may have been ignored by the previous keeper.

DVSA publishes details of all safety recalls, easily searched by make, model and year.  Most recall notices include the VIN/chassis number range(s) and build date range of affected vehicles.

Don't rely on the MOT test

Recalls don't only affect nearly new cars, but if your car is more than three years old you can't rely on the annual MOT test to highlight any relevant recall notices - the systems aren't joined up and the tester has no means of checking.


Official vehicle safety recalls

Search recalls

Reporting a vehicle safety defect

Vehicle manufacturers and the DVSA take safety related defects very seriously.

If you think there's a serious safety defect with your car that meets the definition in the highlighted box above then you can use the Vehicle Safety Branch's Safety defect reporting form to draw it to the attention of the DVSA.

Examples of safety defects covered by official recalls

Official recalls always concern serious safety defects:

  • Brakes not working
  • Unexpected braking
  • Unexpected airbag operation
  • Fuel leak
  • Fire risk
  • Sun roof may shatter
  • Seatbelt stalk may detach
  • Seatbelt malfunction
  • Towbar may detach
  • Brake lamps may not illuminate
  • Airbag may not function
  • Incorrect warning lights may display
  • Clutch pedal may detach
  • Throttle pedal may detach
  • Hand brake self release
  • Wiring harness chafing
  • Steering may fail
  • Possible wheel hub and brake caliper detachment
  • Seat may catch fire
  • Door may open during driving
  • Drivers seat may recline unexpectedly


(8 May 2015)