Niagara Gazette

June 20, 2013

TOM'S CORNER: Secret letters that can save you money: TSB

By Tom Torbjornsen
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — While everybody understands what a recall is, not many car owners have heard of the Technical Service Bulletin (TSB). TSB’s are sometimes confused with recalls, but they are not the same thing. Recalls come about from vehicular defects that result in loss of life or limb. TSBs, on the other hand, are documentation of defects that come about as a result of consumer complaints to mechanical failure trends that develop as a result of a non-life threatening defect. The car companies have technical field reps that travel the countryside visiting dealer-to-dealer and reporting on mechanical failures, this data is then given to the technical labs of the car company and repairs are developed from the data. While these service alerts are issued to dealers by the car companies, a TSB repair is usually only covered if your vehicle is still under a factory warranty. If your car is out of warranty, a dealer doesn’t have to perform the fix for free. Oftentimes, TSBs are confused with the urban legend of a “silent recall,” where the carmaker repairs something without telling you, say, when you drop the car off for oil change. Trust me that this just doesn’t happen in the real world — there is no such thing as a “silent recall.” Sometimes carmakers authorize their zone reps to offer a free repair called a “Goodwill Adjustment” based on customer loyalty, service history, ownership loyalty, meticulous service work or some other practice that indicates ideal customer idiosyncrasies.

Footing the bill

The savvy car owner will use TSBs to their advantage. We’ll get to some practical applications shortly, but first let’s address the whole issue of who pays for a repair that’s part of a TSB. While the carmaker is under no obligation to do so, the bottom line is that sometimes they will, depending on the repair and the specific situation of course. Carmakers and dealers both have made it a habit of making “goodwill adjustments,” extending an olive branch to the consumer in these cases. CSI or Customer Satisfaction Index is what carmakers base employee bonuses on, hence the often used “Goodwill Adjustment” because it affects the sales person’s pocketbook. Smart way to do business if used in the correct manner. But remember, before you can plead your case as to why you deserve such an olive branch, you need to know about the TSB and understand what it means. As I stated before, carmakers have technical service representatives out in the field all across the country, collecting service data. They use this data in order to identity patterns and trends coming up with what is called a “failure trend” index. Usually the carmaker will come up with the fix within their own labs, other times if a vendor is involved such as a lubricant company or a maker of a particular part that failed, the carmaker will work with the vendor to come up with a solution to the problem. Once an effective repair is found, and if the problem is not considered to pose a safety threat significant enough to force a recall, the information gets written up into a TSB.

Putting a tsb to good use

This information is useful in vehicle repair because the carmaker has already done the research and found the cause of the problem and how to fix it. So if you own a vehicle with a recurring problem, a TSB search may help you identify the possible causes.

For instance, years ago, I owned a 1991 Chevy Lumina Eurosport that had a bad habit of eating rear brake pads. I had gone through two sets on the car in just 12,000 miles. When the third set of pads went south, I did a TSB search. I found out that the pins that the pads ride on were going bad from exposure to the elements because of bad pin seals. In addition, the caliper slides were also corroding, which stopped the calipers from sliding back and forth smoothly, such that they would seize in the applied position whenever the brakes were applied. The TSB fix told me to use the emergency brake to keep the calipers free and moving and routinely keep the pins and caliper slides lubricated. I followed the procedure outlined and the rear pads lasted 40,000 miles.

Another time I owned a Dodge Neon, it kept blowing cylinder head gaskets. I had the gasket replaced two times and both blew within 100 miles of installation. I got very frustrated, then I took my own advice and did a TSB search on cylinder head gaskets for this car. It turned up a TSB from Chrysler Corp, seems they came up with a special kit that stopped cylinder head leaks on these vehicles. It included a laminated head gasket & gasket sealer, special thread lock/sealer for head bolts and a new set of cylinder head bolts. A special procedure was lied out step by step and a special head torque sequence topped the procedure. This procedure solved the cylinder head coolant leak problem.

Researching the TSB history of a particular vehicle can also be useful when you’re shopping for a used car because it can alerts you to potential problems before making a purchase which can save you headaches and money loss.

How to find TSB information

There are two main ways to get TSB information. The easiest and cheapest is to visit the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration website at TSB summaries can be easily accessed and can usually provide all the information you need.

The other option is to subscribe to a service from AllData, found This company will sell you specific recall and TSB information on your vehicle for an annual subscription of $26.95. Choosing this route, you get the entire TSB as soon as it becomes available, without any lag before it hits the NHTSA website.

Finally, you can call your customer service line and sometimes they can help you or they will connect you with a technical service rep. Or sometimes you can get such info at the carmaker’s website, just do a search for recalls or TSBs.

’Til next time … Keep Rollin’

"America's Car Show" with Tom Torbjornsen airs 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, 9 a.m. Thursday and 11 a.m. Saturday on WBBZ-TV.