The Difference between Service Bulletins and Recalls

When an automotive manufacturer discovers a specific problem on a certain year, make and model automobile, they can take three actions to get this information to the dealership service department and the general public. This article will discuss the difference between a technical service bulletin, a manufacturer recall and the special policy action.

Critical Automotive Information

It’s safe to say that nobody knows more about your specific automobile than the car maker who built it. The main reason for this is the massive worldwide dealer network that supports the individual products. When things start to malfunction on a vehicle, warranty claims are submitted for reimbursement. All auto companies need to keep tight controls on the amount of checks going out, because each one issued comes off of the profit margin.

This is why the factory categorizes and reviews each individual repair before they send a dealership a check. As these repair bills continue to roll in from across the world the factory is able to identify repair trends. When the same part continues to fail all across the globe on a particular year, make and model automobile the manufacturer will classify this information and determine a course of action. Keep in mind that doing nothing about the problem at all is still considered a course of action.

Categorizing Auto Repairs

If the malfunction is in a critical safety related system the company may choose to issue a recall on its own accord. When the failure isn’t related to safety, or the failure rate has not reached a certain threshold, the car maker may choose to put the individual dealerships service departments on notice by issuing a technical service bulletin. Finally, if the problem doesn’t affect safety or reliability, but has the ability to lose loyal customers, the factory may issue a special policy. Next will go into each individual action and provide some examples in each classification.

The Factory Issued Recall

When a car manufacturer issues a recall it’s almost always pertaining to something that can be construed as a safety item. There are two main ways a problem can become a recall. The company that built the car may become aware of an unusually high failure rate in a specific component. These companies usually have internal thresholds that trigger an investigation into the matter. At this point the car company can issue a recall and fix the problem, or not.

The other course of action that can turn a common problem into a recall is when the NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) becomes aware of the issue first. This agency is always collecting data through a variety of organizations and when necessary launches its own investigation into individual problems. You can learn more about how they collect this data using the national automotive sampling system and the crashworthiness data system on the NHTSA website.

Technical Service Bulletin

The automotive technical service bulletin is an extremely powerful tool used by mechanics to help identify, diagnose and repair common problems the factory is already aware of. The car makers only provide these bulletins to their network of dealerships. The reason they supply this information at all, is to try and control their own internal costs on diagnosis and repair as it applies to warranty claims.

This information can be purchased by aftermarket auto repair centers so they can better service their customer’s needs. As for the general public this information is basically not available for free or without effort. Several companies in the automotive business offer subscription services to access these technical service bulletins.

What is a Special Policy

A special policy is when a manufacturer agrees to pay for a specific defect for an extended period of time outside of the base warranty coverage. These are often considered actions to retain future customers. When the company becomes aware of a problem that is not safety related but could be construed as a defect in material or workmanship they may choose to cover the issue as a show of goodwill.

As an example, I received a notice by mail of a special policy on my personal automobile. The timing chain and gears have been experiencing a material failure on an above average basis according to the notice. General Motors has extended the warranty coverage for 10 years 100,000 miles on these components. The base warranty is over in 3 years or 36,000 miles. If the timing chain or gears fail, it will be covered at no charge for 10 years 100,000 miles. I received this letter of notice despite being the second owner of the car, because I went to the dealer service department for several recalls and now listed as the current owner.