An automobile recall notice often is not the best way to find out that there is a problem with your vehicle. Automakers routinely try to avoid or at least delay issuing full-blown recalls. Notably, General Motors waited until this year to recall 2.6 million small cars worldwide over an ignition-switch defect that was first detected more than 10 years earlier and that has been linked to at least 13 deaths.

You can find out about such problems before there is a recall. Each week, ­major automakers send Technical Service Bulletins (TSBs) to their dealership service departments describing fixes that can be made when patterns of possible cosmetic or mechanical problems emerge for particular makes, models and years of vehicles. GM issued its first TSB about the ignition-switch defect nine years ago.

The fixes often are done for free as long as your vehicle still is under warranty. (In compliance with federal regulations, recall problems must be fixed for free regardless of warranty status.)

Although manufacturers are not required to make TSBs available to the public, you can access them… At the website of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, you can search for summaries of bulletins about your vehicle’s make, model and year. Then, for about 10 cents a page, you can order full copies of the bulletins, which take four to six weeks to arrive by mail. Click on the “Vehicle Manufacturers” tab, then “Technical ­Service Bulletins.”

Your dealership service department or auto-repair shop. If you have a relationship with someone at the shop, ask if he/she can show you TSBs relating to any problems with your vehicle.

Private subscription services. You can subscribe to, which allows you to download full versions of all TSBs relating to your vehicle’s make, model and year. A five-year subscription costs $44.95…one-year, $26.95.

Hyundai owners have limited free access to TSBs at

Online forums for car enthusiasts sometimes highlight problems with particular makes and models. You can use a search engine to track them down.

How to use TSBs: They can be useful when…

You are having a problem with a car you own. If there is a TSB that relates to the problem you are having, point this out to a mechanic. If the problem is not covered by your warranty, citing the TSB may help you negotiate a reduced charge to fix the problem or even a free fix. Also, citing the TSB might help the mechanic diagnose the problem, especially if it is difficult for the mechanic to replicate the problem.

Shopping for a used vehicle. Check all TSBs for any make, model and year of vehicle you are considering.

Making repairs on your own. TSBs don’t just address problems. They often offer step-by-step instructions and diagrams not found in repair manuals on how to fix what’s wrong.