A vehicle recall offers you a free fix of a known issue with the safety of your car. But despite media coverage and letters mailed to registered owners, too many cars miss out on these repairs and remain potentially dangerous.

Fortunately, it’s very easy to find out if a car you own or plan to buy is subject to a recall, thanks to a handy free tool from the CarFax vehicle history service. You just need a car’s vehicle identification number – the VIN is a 17-character code that you can find on the driver’s doorjamb and on the base of the driver’s side of the dashboard, visible through the windshield from outside of the car. (If you’re buying a car, the seller can provide the VIN, though you’ll probably want to check it again yourself when you see the car in person.)

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Go to recall.carfax.com, select the make of vehicle that you’re searching and then type in the VIN. The website will tell you whether the car you’re searching has any recall work that was not performed. The site will also encourage you to buy a vehicle history report outlining past owners of the car and whether it’s been in an accident. But if you’re buying a used car, you should ask the seller to provide that to you.

Many automakers’ websites also have “owners” sections that can tell you about recalls. And if you want to erase all shadow of a doubt, a common recommendation is to call up your local dealer’s service department and ask them to check the company records on whether the car was ever repaired.

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The repairs are guaranteed free for the life of the car, so if your car has recall work that was never done, better late than never.

Brady Holt, a Washington D.C. newspaper reporter, has had a lifelong interest in cars in the automotive world, and he’ll share his thoughts at every available opportunity. Brady has written for Examiner.com since 2008, publishing hundreds of car reviews, automotive news pieces and other features. His work can be found on Examiner.com.

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