Your Guide to Technical Service Bulletins

by Aryn Plax

Jan 21, 2021

Starting last year, tens of thousands of manufacturer-dealership communications have been posted to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s database. Now that these communications are public, you, the consumer, can review them, learn about potential problems in your vehicle and even discover any free repairs for which you might be eligible.

The update came after the Center for Auto Safety dropped its years-long lawsuit against the Department of Transportation (DOT), in which the Center argued that federal auto regulators failed their responsibility of making auto manufacturers’ communications available to the public.

One common communication now available to you is called a technical service bulletin (TSB). These communications describe a particular, common problem found in specific vehicle models and provide instructions on how the problems should be addressed.

Typically, these TSBs are issued after a particular vehicle lineup (or several lineups) repeatedly experiences a certain problem. Additionally, TSBs will state whether the automaker will cover the cost of the repair.

How can consumers find TSBs and other communications?

Photo description: A man in a suit hands you a key fob.

You can search any vehicle model on a database made available by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Once there, just press the “Vehicle” tab and search for a vehicle model.

The results feature recalls, investigations, complaints and manufacturer communications. Click the number in the row for your desired result and in the column for “manufacturer communications.” This number will lead you to a new page, which display TSBs and other manufacturer communications. While on this page, you can also narrow down the communications by affected components, such as air bags, parking brakes, or electrical systems.

At the time the Center had filed its lawsuit, TSBs were only available through online forums or from the manufacturers themselves – at a cost. During the lawsuit, the Center said that manufacturers previously did not make TSBs public because manufacturers could face a heavy cost if consumers took advantage of free repairs and warranty extensions.

“The Center fought for decades against secret warranties and other dirty tricks of the auto manufacturers in order to bring technical service bulletins to light,” Jason Levine, the Center’s executive director, said in the lawsuit. “Despite the law being updated in 2012 to require communications from manufacturers to their dealers to be posted online, the government failed to do so – which is why we took DOT to court.”