What is a Technical Service Bulletin (TSB)?

January 27, 2011

A Technical Service Bulletin, often abbreviated TSB, is an instruction, issued by manufacturer, about a specific repair issue on a particular year, make ad model vehicle. Think of them as a midpoint between a normal repair attempt and a Recall.

Sometimes, the manufacturer identifies a defect with a vehicle, but it judges the problem is not a serious safety concern.  So the manufacturer prepares a TSB, which details how to fix this known problem, and sends it to dealerships and mechanics. The next time a consumer comes in complaining of this defect, the dealership is supposed to apply the TSB to take care of the problem.

While a recall generally applies to all vehicles of a certain year, make, and model,  sometimes only certain vehicles in the production run demonstrate the actual defect. This is another situation in which a TSB might be issued. The cost of a full recall is judged too expensive, because not every vehicle actually needs the repair. But the manufacturer knows about the problem, so it issues a TSB, which it knows will only be applied if a consumer shows up at the dealership complaining about that problem.

If enough people complain about the same problem with their vehicles, a manufacturer may issue a TSB even though it did not previously believe a problem existed. The TSB may contain research by the manufacturer’s engineers about how to eliminate the problem or how to diagnose if the problem is identical to the one other consumers have reported.

A TSB can be issued without the manufacturer having a solution to the problem.  A TSB could merely contain the manufacturer’s position as to why the problme is not really a defct that needs to be repaired. A TSB may just inform mechanics that the problem is known to be widespread, but a solution is still being developed. A TSB may be issued with a proposed solution for the complaint, but prove to ultimately be ineffective in fully and finally resolving the problem .

The Wikipedia article on TSBs suggest that they contain no obligation to fix a vehicle for free, but the fact a manufacturer saw fit to issue one creates  legal issues. For example, failing to fix a vehicle subject to a TSB may breach an implied warranty or be considered an unfair or deceptive trade practice. If a problem persists past the expiration of warranty, a TSB may be proof that the repair was not completed or at least not completed properly. In that case, the manufacturer issuing the warranty may have an obligation to now complete the repair, even if the vehicle is outside the warranty period.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)  maintains a good resource for checking whether your vehicle has a pending TSB. Your local dealership should also have easy access to a database to check whether the TSBs apply to your vehicle.

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