Can I Get Recall Repairs Done to My Car During the Coronavirus Crisis?

With stay-at-home orders affecting an estimated 8 in 10 U.S. residents amid the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus, you might wonder what to do when a recall notice shows up in the mail. Such notices, which all carry the same red-background label, may come weeks or months after a recall is announced. Amid guidance for social distancing and concerns of exposure to the virus, can you — and should you — get a recall fixed? We’ll answer as many questions as we can.

Related: Coronavirus Car Care: We Had to Get Our Hyundai Palisade Fixed During Shelter-in-Place

Do I Risk COVID-19 Exposure by Getting My Car Fixed?

Yes, but you can mitigate such exposure. (We’ll get to that in the next question.) Because the coronavirus is so spreadable — even by those who show no symptoms, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now says — some level of risk exists for any interactions: going to the grocery store, dropping off a package at the post office, you name it. That’s why the stay-at-home orders across most of the country generally restrict movement to vital activities, such as buying food or working at an essential business.

As current guidance on social distancing warns, the risk of contracting COVID-19 increases in crowded places, but if our recent efforts to fix Cars.com’s long-term Hyundai Palisade are any indication, dealerships aren’t exactly brimming with people right now. And J.D. Power data indicates our experience may reflect dealers nationwide, at least in the showroom.

“What J.D. Power sees in the initial data is that when the state or local government tells people to stay home, they tend to do so whether dealer sales [operations] are open or closed,” said Tyson Jominy, who heads the firm’s data side. “Once the governor or mayor says to shut everything down, people listen.”

What Can I Do to Mitigate the Risk?

It’s worth seeing if you can limit interactions at the dealership entirely. See if your dealer offers remote valet service, a practice many facilities increasingly employ on the sales front amid the  COVID-19 crisis. Absent that, many dealers still offer an after-hours key drop-off — another way to avoid exposure if, for example, your spouse can drive you home in a second car.

If you must visit in person, a few guidelines can help:

  • Ask when the service bay is least busy and schedule your appointment then. Pick a day when the weather forecast is nice, or at least nice enough, to wait outside if necessary.
  • At the dealer, maintain social distancing (staying at least 6 feet apart from others, per CDC guidance) whenever possible. It goes without saying by now, but wash your hands frequently and thoroughly throughout the process, and avoid touching your face. 
  • When recall work is done, follow our suggestions to disinfect the major touchpoints in your car.
  • Don’t go if you feel sick, have a diagnosis of COVID-19 or have been exposed to someone who has it.

Is a Recall Repair Worth the Risk Right Now?

The reasons behind any trip to the mechanic, recall or otherwise, vary a great deal. If your car mostly sits in the garage while you work from home, it may be worthwhile to delay most routine maintenance until the risk of COVID-19 exposure subsides. By contrast, an overdue replacement for a Takata airbag inflator poses a grave safety risk. The decision, ultimately, is up to you.

Safety recalls run the gamut, ranging in seriousness from an inaccurate label to, well, Takata. Individuals need to weigh the risk of exposure versus not getting a recall fixed. We defer to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s guidance on the matter: “NHTSA is aware that many vehicle repair facilities remain open as some states have declared them ‘essential businesses,’” the agency said in an email to Cars.com. “All recalls represent an unreasonable risk to safety. Consumers that have vehicles with open recalls should call their nearest dealer to inquire about scheduling a repair when feasible.”

Are Dealers Even Open for Recall Work?

Generally, yes. Unlike showrooms, which have varying restrictions depending on location, automotive repair and maintenance facilities are considered essential infrastructure and thus may remain open, according to a March 19 memo from the Department of Homeland Security. Many jurisdictions have deferred to DHS’ guidance, though some have issued their own restrictions — either stricter or more lenient — so it’s best to call your dealership to determine specifics.

Will Dealers Even Have the Parts to Fix My Car?

That depends on the recall. Coronavirus-related closures are affecting manufacturing of all stripes worldwide. In a tally of U.S. vehicle assembly plants alone, Automotive News reports widespread closures until at least mid-April, with many plants simply closed until further notice. If your recall requires a rare part from a factory now closed, the repair might have to wait. If it’s a common part stockpiled somewhere along the supply chain, the work might proceed undelayed. Again, call your dealer for specifics.

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Are Recalls Still Coming Out Right Now?

The evidence suggests yes. In March, a month when COVID-19 ballooned across the country, automakers and regulators still issued 25 recalls encompassing some 2.5 million passenger vehicles. That eclipses the recalls issued during both the prior month and year (so, February 2020 and March 2019). Even in the second half of March, as cities and states ramped up stay-at-home orders and business closures, 14 recalls were issued for passenger vehicles. COVID-19 has had little impact on the pace, it seems.

It’s worth noting that a recall’s publication is only one point in a long process. Recalls often stem from lengthy investigations; NHTSA told us in 2016 that some probes can take longer than 16 months. In all likelihood, recalls published in recent weeks were under investigation long before COVID-19 became widespread, and current problems under investigation may not prompt recalls for weeks or months to come.

Will We See Fewer Recalls in the Future Due to COVID-19?

It’s conceivable that COVID-19 has spawned delays in coordination between investigators and the auto industry, but NHTSA claims its Office of Defects Investigation, an arm that oversees recalls, is running at normal pace. ODI “continues to function fully in assessing incoming data for potential vehicle and equipment defects” during the pandemic, the agency told Cars.com. “Investigations are proceeding and automotive manufacturers and suppliers are filing recalls as those decisions are made.”

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