I’m a dealership’s worst nightmare. When I hear any squeak or rattle in our cars, I take it directly to the warranty manager to get analyzed and fixed. I’m not the type who can just drown out the noise with a stereo, because once I know it’s there, I’ll never forget it.
What is a Technical Service Bulletin?
Prior to the internet, you had to almost bribe the dealer or mechanic to find out what service bulletins the manufacturer issued for your vehicle. A Technical Service Bulletin, or TSB, is a notification by the manufacturer on how to fix a common, recurring problem in a vehicle, but it is not a full recall. According to an Edmunds.com article about TSBs:
Most TSBs are released during the first year that a vehicle is offered or the year following a redesign…in order to address areas that might have been overlooked when designing the car.
These bulletins differ from recalls in that they are not considered safety or emissions issues and they usually apply only when your vehicle is in its warranty period (whereas a recall is “open” until the work has been performed). TSBs frequently (but not always) address a recurring problem and include illustrated instructions for repair, a list of the parts needed, the warranty status and the labor charge.
Find all the Technical Service Bulletins for your vehicle online
Edmunds.com provides a very valuable service where you can find all the TSBs for your vehicle (back to 1990 model year). You can browse to the “Maintenance Schedules, Recalls, and Technical Service Bulletins” applet here.
You plug in the details about your vehicle year, make, model, and trim, plus the current mileage, and you get access to maintenance schedule (for your mileage), recalls, and most importantly, the TSBs. I think the TSBs are most valuable because recalls and maintenance schedules are either readily available to required by law to be distributed to owners (recalls). However, TSBs are usually minor problems, but still very important for a new vehicle owner.
Understanding the TSB Report
For my 2006 Honda Ridgeline RTS, I found 2 Recall Notices and 39 TSB Reports. Because I browse the Ridgeline owner forums to research common Ridgeline problems, and ask about issues I’m having with my own truck, I am informed about the common problems. However, I also want to know what Honda has admitted as a problem, and to see whether a fix is available.
Buying the detailed TSB
Unfortunately, Edmunds only prints a summary of the TSB, but it does give the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) Item Number, which you can use to purchase the details of the TSB directly from NHTSA’s web site. However, it’s not cheap, but if you’re consistently having a problem with the vehicle that the dealership is denying exists, you may want the full technical details to back up your argument, and also to understand the problem entirely.
The Edmunds article also mentions a few other methods of obtaining the TSB full report for a smaller fee or free:
1. You can buy a full 1-year subscription to all TSB and Recall reports for a single vehicle through AllData.com for $24.95, and additional vehicles for $14.95 each. You get access to the full text of the TSB, as well as diagnostic and repair procedures, diagrams, and “more”.
2. Apparently, BAT Auto, a collaboration of over a dozen mechanics, will provide the full details of a TSB for free through their forums. They do request donations, which is justified if you get the answer you needed through the forums that would otherwise have cost you $25 or more.
Finally, some manufacturers, such as Hyundai, provide technical information to owners through their Service website, but I’m definitely a fan of browsing the owner forums to find problems similar to your vehicle’s before spending money or too much time for a TSB. Perhaps, if you’re nice, you COULD just ask the dealership nicely for a full list of TSBs. But, that would just mean more warranty work for them.
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