'TSB' stands for 'Technical Service Bulletin' and it is a bulletin issued by automakers when certain problems and defects are reported by repair shops or car owners. A TSB is a diagnostic procedure for repairing a vehicle.
Occasionally the bulletins are written by OEM engineers, but more often they are written by the first repair tech to discover the repair procedure. Sometimes there is more than one TSB for the same issue.
What's The Difference Between a TSB and a Recall?
Sometimes a TSB is confused with a recall. The main difference is that a recall is issued by a vehicle manufacturer for issues that are safety-related, while a TSB covers components that may be malfunctioning but don't compromise the safety of the vehicle.
For example, an issue addressed in a recall might be related to things like engine fires, unintended acceleration or braking problems. In other words, these are problems that can lead to significant injury or death.
When a vehicle has been recalled, automakers are required by law to notify the current owner and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration; with a TSB, automakers must notify NHTSA but not car owners.
In a recall situation, notices are arranged by the VIN and sent out to car owners alerting them of the problem. They can then take their vehicle into a branded dealership and have the problem fixed for free.
Any dealership that sells the brand affected by the recall must perform indicated repairs before selling the vehicles.
Recall issues might be discovered by NHTSA or by the automakers themselves.
What Is A Technical Service Bulletin?
As service departments see a common issue with a specific make and model, they may report it to the automaker, who will then take a closer look.
Once the issue is identified, a procedure will be developed to fix the problem. The solution might be a new part, a specific adjustment or other repair procedure.
There can be multiple TSBs for the make and model of the vehicle throughout its lifetime if various issues arise.
If any issue covered in a TSB turns out to be a safety concern, then the automaker will issue a full recall for the affected VINs.
Who Pays for a TSB?
TSBs are voluntary repairs and might not even apply to your vehicle if you haven't experienced the issue it covers. A TSB might also be under warranty coverage, which means the vehicle manufacturer might indicate a specific period for its repair. If you take the vehicle in for the repair while it's under warranty, the repair should be free. However, if you get the repair done outside of this period, the costs will likely be your responsibility.
In the case of a recall, the automaker always pays for this mandatory repair. It never expires, so regardless of when you find out that your VIN is affected, you can still take it in for a free repair.
How To Find A TSB
Both recalls and TSBs are tracked by NHTSA. You can go to their site and look up a VIN to find out if there are outstanding or completed recalls or TSBs. Other sites may also perform a similar service, such as at Mopar.
Typically, when you search a VIN, you will pull up either no problems or a list of problems. Next to each problem will be an indicator of whether the repair work was completed on that particular VIN. This is something that can be especially useful in used car shopping. If you click on the problem, it will usually take you to a document indicating what the problem was about.
When Are TSBs Released?
Some TSBs are issued during the first model year of a vehicle or the first model year of a significant redesign, i.e. the start of a new generation. This is mainly due to the fact that testing before release may not have revealed all the possible problems and/or defects with a vehicle.
However, once the vehicles are sold and become subject to real-world driving conditions, the problems start to crop up. TSBs usually go out to dealership service departments as they tend to see the most vehicles still covered under warranty. If the problem is widespread, then the automaker may send out letters to notify car owners. When this happens, it means that the automaker has discerned or narrowed down which vehicles the issue is happening to. A list of VINs is then compiled and owners with affected VINs are sent letters.
What's In a TSB Notification Letter?
The letter sent out to notify owners of problems may list more than one issue.
It will indicate that the notice applies to your vehicle and list the VIN number, outline the problem or problems and mention the vehicle types affected.
The letter will also tell you what your dealer will do to repair the vehicle, how long the repair will take and what will be repaired. Consumers will also be informed what their actions should be, which is usually contacting the branded dealer and scheduling an appointment.
If you happen to take your vehicle in for repairs related to an eventual recall, you may be eligible for reimbursement. For example, if you paid for repairs to your Chrysler vehicle as a result of a TSB for an issue that eventually turns into a recall, you can submit a written request for reimbursement to their customer service department.
What If a TSB is Not Widely Circulated?
There are many cases where finding a TSB for your vehicle can be difficult. This happens when it's not widely circulated, unlike when notification letters are sent out.
Nevertheless, there are still a few ways you can find out about them.
You can pay for detailed information on TSBs through ALLDATA or NHTSA, or you can check out forums dedicated to your vehicle model year and see what others are saying.
If you tend to repair your own vehicle, both options can be useful. Information on TSBs on ALLDATA for example, usually include part numbers, which makes finding the part easier for DIY repairs.
Some manufacturers, like Hyundai, also run service websites to help customers find information on problems with their vehicles. Even though you can't necessarily find specific TSBs, you can find specific areas of concern for model years.