Trash or Refund? What to Do with Recalled Products


Regular readers of this site know that recalls happen all the time. The cause can range from a labeling mix-up to a serious manufacturing defect or safety concern.

If you have a recalled product or item on your hands, you might not know what to do with it. Here’s a quick cheat sheet to figure out your next move.


Obviously you’re not going to throw away your car. However, the vehicle recall process might make you wish you’d never bought it in the first place.

Vehicle recalls go through the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. You can always look up your VIN in the NHTSA database to find out if there’s an open recall on your car. The good news is that auto recalls don’t expire. The bad news is that there’s often a serious lag time between the steps involved.

First, the automaker has to receive enough complaints to investigate the issue. Then they announce the planned recall with the NHTSA. That announcement might come weeks or months before the company notifies registered drivers. And once you get the notice, you’ll still have to make an appointment with an authorized dealer for repairs.

Some auto recalls are serious enough that you should not drive the vehicle until it is fixed. In the case of the ongoing Kia/Hyundai recalls, you should park outside in case your car spontaneously combusts. That’s a huge deal, and automakers need to do better about getting information to drivers in a timely manner.

Related: Hyundai and Kia Fire Risk Recall


In many cases, food recalls are caused by contamination. Salmonella, E. coli, and listeria have all popped up in food recalls this year.

You should not eat food recalled for contamination. Most recall notices will tell you to throw the food away. Double-bag it, if possible. It can also help to sprinkle something like coffee grounds or eggshells on the food so that it is less attractive to pets or other animals that might get in the trash.

Related: New Salmonella Outbreak

If the food is recalled due to a labeling issue or other mix-up, you have more options. If you know that an undeclared allergen won’t hurt you, then you could still consume the product. It’s also more likely that you can take the affected products back to the store where you bought them for a refund.

Always read the recall notice to see whether a refund or replacement is possible.

Consumer Products

Consumer products get recalled for a few reasons:

  • Toxic levels of lead
  • Potential for injury from breakage
  • Tipping hazard
  • Fire hazard
  • Choking hazard

Most companies will offer a refund or free replacement for their recalled products. Others will supply a free fix, such as a wall anchor kit to prevent a dresser from tipping over. You’ll have to contact their customer service department rather than going to the store where you purchased the item.

An important note: You cannot legally resell a recalled item. Don’t put it out at a yard sale or even give it away on Craigslist.


Recalled medicine can be life-threatening. An ongoing recall of metformin, for example, exposed a chemical byproduct in the stored medicine that could cause cancer. Recalls for improperly labeled pills or incorrect dosages happen, too.

You should always call your doctor if your prescribed medicine is recalled. They’ll be able to advise you or help find a replacement.

When disposing of recalled medicine, the safest course is to crush any remaining pills and mix them in a zip-top bag with coffee grounds or even dirt. That way, no one will scrounge the pills from your trash. Flushing pills isn’t safe for the water supply in some cases, so check the recall notice first.