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What is a Technical Service Bulletin

by Autobytel Staff
March 11, 2008

From the initial design stages to the point of construction, a number of factors increases the margin of error for automobiles coming off assembly lines. Eventually for many vehicles, technical faults (ones not relating to safety and emissions control) result in operational issues shortly into the vehicle's lifespan. The end result, these issues develop into massive headaches for motorists who paid premium prices for new vehicles.

Realizing that brand loyalty suffers with each unscheduled trip to an authorized dealer service center, automakers and their dealerships service centers utilize a communication tool called a Technical Service Bulletin (TSB) to specify route causes for vehicle problems and the provide recommended remedy.

Not surprising, the automotive service technicians are the first persons to recognize a real-world pattern for faulty automotive systems. For auto technicians belonging to manufacturer-linked service centers, they are required to keep a trained eye for patterns involving the brand's vehicles. Therefore, the majority of TSBs are authored by those service technicians who have spotted potentially recurring technical programs. Other sources for TSB documents are from engineering departments of the automakers and sometimes even the supplier to the auto company. When enough concerns are sent to the manufacturer, a TSB wil be issuedl to all authorized dealer service centers. This TSB document will include a detailed recommendation for repairing the problem. On occasions, there could be several TSBs produced about the same problem when one solution failed to correct the error.

While TSBs are catered to assist service professionals, not all technicians benefit from the valuable repair information. Since independent auto service shops are not affiliated with a specific automaker, these faculties and their technicians do not receive Technical Service Bulletins.

The Technical Service Bulletin may commonly be mistaken as a recall. While both procedures address faults in a vehicle, TSBs and recalls greatly differ.

Firstly, a recall notices are sent out mainly when vehicle failures amounts to a potential safety hazard or emission issue. A technical service bulletin is issued for a variety of other vehicle equipment problems including electronics, drivetrain, wheel and tire, and even engine parts. Examples would include malfunctioning power door locks or starting problems. The technical issues could even be as simple as a poorly-installed floor mat in the case of one Lexus LS600H TSB report.

Secondly, the intended receiver for TSBs are automotive service technicians belonging to the automaker's dealership. The repairs suggested in TSBs are not mandated by the National Highway Traffic Safety Association (NHTSA) and thereby deemed as only recommended, unlike a vehicle recall. There is no requirement by the manufacturer or the dealership to notify customers about these possibly vehicle-impairing issues. Though, some dealerships have nonetheless taken the initiative to voluntarily inform their customers about any vehicle flaws as an act of goodwill.

For a long time, it would prove impossible for the reasonable consumer to ever realize that a TSB was even issued against an offending vehicle. Today, this TSB information is now widely viewable on-line with several databases collecting vehicle TSBs. The NHTSA website maintains a large collection of TSBs referring to the vehicle as well as the problem.

Thanks to this new transparency, many would become astonished to how common the TSB is to vehicles, especially vehicle's within their first year of production. The first year model of the Ford Focus has amounted 20 TSBs spanning from issues of a harsh powertrain to an inoperative alarm system. In a modern extreme case, the 2008 GMC Acadia which has recorded 18 TSBs in little more than a year. Fortunately, the discovery of these faults influences the following year's models.

Also evident through databases, domestic cars and trucks are more susceptible to piling TSBs. However, through the last several years some import car brands have been issuing a greater number of TSBs as they increase their sales volumes.

Under warranty, an authorized dealer will repair any TSB-related problems at no charge. However, there is a chance for getting the manufacturer to pay for a TSB issue outside of the standard warranty. Known as After Warranty Assistance or a “secret warranty”, certain parts or components may be covered for free replacement, but only after meeting a varying set of conditions. Otherwise, the repair cost outside of the warranty window will be the responsibility of the owner.


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