How to check if your vehicle has been recalled and is safe to drive.

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A whopping 50 million vehicles on the road have open recalls. Thousands of Fords, Nissans, Hyundais and Hondas have recently been added to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s list. Tap or click here to check if your model is affected.

Maybe a manufacturer discovers that a part of a specific model is wearing out faster than expected and decides to replace it for everyone. Faulty or outdated software can cause significant problems. And sometimes the problem is more pressing, like the Takata airbag recall that started in 2013.

If you own a car, this article is for you. I’ll tell you how you can go online to find out if your vehicle is under a recall and receive email notifications of future recalls. You should also share this valuable information with your family and friends.

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1. Find your car’s VIN

The first step is to find the 17-digit Vehicle Identification Number, or VIN, for short.

The VIN can be found on most vehicles by standing on the outside of the front windshield and looking at the lower corner of the driver’s side dashboard. It can be a little hard to see, so look carefully. Some cars also have it printed on an emblem on the driver’s side door jamb.

If you can’t find your car’s VIN, check your vehicle’s title or registration, or check your insurance documents.

By the way, it’s wise to take a picture of your car’s VIN, so you always have it handy. Tap or click for 9 more photos you should always have on your phone.

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2. Update your registration

Make sure your car manufacturer can reach you. This means keeping your registration up to date and ensuring that your current address is registered. Yes, you can hear about a severe recall through a letter in the mail.

Your first stop is to check your vehicle. Look at the registration sticker in the corner of your plate to make sure the year marked is up to date. You can also visit your state’s Department of Motor Vehicles website to see if you need to pay a fee or go through emissions testing to update your documents.

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3. Use NHTSA’s Recall Checker Tool

Once you have your VIN, visit the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Recall Search Page. Enter your VIN in the search box provided, and the results will display the number and type of safety recalls that apply to your specific vehicle. (If you don’t have your VIN, try searching for your car’s year, make, and model instead.)

The search tool includes unrepaired vehicle safety recalls from the last 15 calendar years. You will also see vehicle safety recalls from major light-duty automakers, motorcycle manufacturers, and some medium/heavy-duty truck manufacturers.

Suppose you get no results; good news! Your vehicle is not part of an ongoing recall.

Pro Tip: It’s also a good idea to research the VIN when buying a used car to find out if you’ll face any security issues after owning it.

Besides car recalls, the NHTSA site is great for checking recalls of vehicle accessories such as car seats, tires, and other car-related equipment.

Scammers prey on drivers like you. Think you’ve won a gas gift card? Think again. Tap or click here for red flags to look out for.

4. Be proactive

Just because your vehicle is not currently under a recall does not mean it will not receive one in the future. For this purpose, the NHTSA also offers an email notification system to receive reminder alerts.

To register, enter your email address and choose up to five vehicle models, makes and years. You can also choose to get an overview of all vehicle recalls each week and receive alerts on tire or car seat recalls.

The NHTSA site is also a great place to compare vehicle safety ratings, check your tires, and find out how easy a car seat is to use. Browse the Ratings page here.

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5. Register with Carfax

Carfax compiles your vehicle’s various records, including accident reports, maintenance schedules and recall alerts. The best part is, it’s free.

To create an account, go to carfax.com. Do not click on “Get CARFAX Reports”. This will trick you into paying for a full vehicle report, which is not what you want.

Instead, click Sign Up in the top right corner and create an account. Add your vehicle by searching for your VIN or license plate.

After registering, you will receive a monthly report with open recalls for your vehicle, its value and any services due.

What to do if your vehicle is part of a recall

Where do you take your car if it is part of a recall? Recall service work is usually performed at your car dealership. Call them to make an appointment. Having the callback number is handy, but they can also look up callback information in their records.

Recalls can be for potentially dangerous issues, so schedule your car’s service as soon as possible. Dealerships usually have shuttle services. You can drop off your car and have them pick you up when it’s ready. Your dealership can even arrange for your car to be towed if the recall involves a serious problem.

And don’t forget that the dealership will perform any repair work done to your car due to the recall, free of charge. This includes parts and software.

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Discover all the latest technologies on the Kim Komando show, the nation’s largest weekend radio talk show. Kim takes calls and dispenses advice on today’s digital lifestyle, from smartphones and tablets to online privacy and data hacks. For his daily tips, free newsletters and more, visit his website at Komando.com.

The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of USA TODAY.

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