TSB or Recall?
Every once in a while you'll overhear a news report about one auto manufacturer or another issuing a recall covering a number of a certain model of its vehicles. And sometimes you'll overhear mechanics at the repair shop make reference to a TSB-or Technical Service Bulletin-regrading a specific vehicle. Both provide useful information and result in speedy repairs to known issues but they're not the same thing.
The recall system for motor vehicles was first introduced to the U.S. market in 1966. Under the auspices of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the government gives manufacturers the opportunity to announce recalls voluntarily. If this does not happen, the NHTSA has the authority to announce a mandatory recall.
An automobile recall is a process that involves recalling vehicles that are found to have a manufacturing problem that can cause an emissions or safety difficulty. These can range from a minor mechanical defect like a malfunctioning ignition system or vehicle sensor, to suspension or brake systems, as well as major engine or driveline failures.
Safety-related defects may exist in a group of vehicles with the same design or manufacture or in equipment items of a certain type or manufactured by a certain manufacturer that are installed in a group of vehicles. Because many of today's vehicle models use the same parts, the effect one faulty component can have on the safety or emissions of many vehicle models can be far-reaching, indeed.
Sometimes an auto recall is for a simple and minor situation, while others represent serious safety hazards. A minor recall may involve having a dealer replace a faulty sensor in the engine, for example, while a major recall could involve something as drastic as a faulty ignition switch that could malfunction and lock the vehicle's steering wheel while it's moving.
In the past 15 years, the number of automobile recalls in the United States has sharply increased, with the number of units involved in these recalls often counted in the millions. In 2004 alone, more than 30 million vehicles were recalled nationwide.
But not every chronic vehicle problem is a safety or emissions issue or results in a recall, which is why the manufacturers have developed Technical Safety Bulletins. Thousands of bulletins are issued each year by car manufacturers with up-to-date factory fixes for difficult-to-diagnose problems such as rough idles, intermittent stalls, hard starts, and all varieties of shakes, rattles and clunks. Information usually includes recommended service procedures to improve a vehicle's performance, reduce future breakdowns or provide details for a factory authorized modification.
The following definitions highlight the difference between an Automobile Recall Notice and Technical Service Bulletin:
--Technical Service Bulletins are notifications issued by vehicle manufacturers to help automotive technicians diagnose and repair problems reported by consumers and repair shops. TSB content may range from diagnostic and repair procedures for a known vehicle problem to notifying dealerships about new and improved parts, warranty and service manual updates, or to update company policies and procedures. Depending on the vehicle's warranty status, the TSB may authorize a free repair. TSBs, though, aren't widely publicized usually, so it's always a good idea to check with your service garage when you are having regular maintenance done to see whether there are any that cover your vehicle(s).
--Official Safety Automobile Recall Notices are issued by automobile manufacturers to inform vehicle owners of defects that can result in technical or safety problems. Defects can range from a minor mechanical situation like a malfunctioning door lock or wheel misalignment to major concerns such as defective axles or unstable engines. Frequently this recall work can be performed free of charge by the dealership. And, often these can be widely publicized, especially when involving safety issues.
It's important to note that, more often than not, only a portion of a vehicle's production run will be affected a recall or TSB. In addition, information issued in a TSB always is intended for use by trained, professional technicians with the knowledge, tools and equipment to do the repair job properly and safely. Because professional technicians are trained to understand conditions that may be particular to some vehicles, procedures should never be attempted by do-it-yourselfers.
If you have any questions concerning TSBs or recalls, contact your local dealer for assistance.