If your car has a potentially dangerous issue, and an online search finds that it may be a common problem, most of us assume the automaker will issue a recall.
Not necessarily, as one woman learned.
Tammy Bevis says she started to think that her Kia's headlights were haunted.
Multiple times, she has been driving at night when her headlights flickered for a few minutes and then failed completely.
"We were getting ready to get on the highway, and the lights blinked three times and went out totally," she said, recalling a recent experience.
After parking the car overnight, the headlights mysteriously worked again.
She's now afraid to drive at night.
"If you do, you take the chance. I tried it Saturday night to a wedding, and the headlights went out on me again," she said.
Dozens of complaints of this happening
Auto blogs report this happening with some frequency with 2012-2014 Kia Souls, and some mechanics blame poor connections within the headlight wiring harness.
So Bevis went to her Kia dealer, but was stunned to learn that her 2014 Soul was already over the mileage limit for bumper-to-bumper coverage, so the manufacturer's warranty would not cover a repair.
"They said it was about $400 for a repair kit that repaired the wiring in the light bulb, and they said it would be at my cost since it was out of warranty," she said.
She couldn't believe a safety recall had never been issued.
Bulletins vs safety recalls
We checked and learned that dealers have received a Kia Technical Service Bulletin, or TSB, for this very issue.
But it turns out there is a big difference between a bulletin and a recall.
Bulletin's identify common failures that many owners have experienced, and show dealers how to fix them. Often the manufacturer provides a "kit" to help dealers easily fix the problem. GM did this with rusting brake lines in many of its pickups and SUVs.
But a bulletin repair job is typically not free, if you are beyond the initial warranty (36,000 or 50,000 miles with most cars).
Recalls are for government-determined safety defects, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration requires free repairs for at least 10 years. Two major recalls in recent years involve Takata air bags and Toyota gas pedals.
Tammy Bevis thinks this one should be a recall, however, as she says flickering headlights are a safety issue.
"If it was just a normal wear-and-tear problem I would have gladly paid for it, but this is a safety issue. And I don't want someone else to go through this and get killed in an accident," she said.
After Bevis told Kia that she was getting us involved, Kia agreed to a free repair.
What you can do
My advice? If your car's problem is common, with a bulletin out, call the manufacturer and ask if they can do what's called a "goodwill" repair. In some cases they will, in others they may pay for half the repair.
If you feel the item should be a recall (with free repair), file a complaint with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration at www.nhtsa.gov. If enough owners complain, and they have reports of accidents as a result of the issue, they may order the manufacturer to issue a safety recall.
Kia recently recalled its K900 sedan for a similar flickering headlight issue, but has not recalled the Soul.
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