Sometimes safety recalls happen because an automaker finds a problem. Sometimes a recall is ordered by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), which keeps detailed records of consumer automotive complaints. The recalls might be major safety concerns -- like exploding tires or self-accelerating gas pedals. Others might seem superficial in comparison -- peeling clear coat on your wheels isn't pretty, but it won't lead to your imminent demise.
Major recalls usually make the news. Your car's manufacturer or the dealership will probably try to contact you by mail. You can also look online, or call your dealership -- which is especially useful if you bought a used car because the dealership can run your car's VIN to see if there are any other outstanding recalls on that make and model year. And if you ever have to pay for the dealership to fix a safety issue that isn't already part of a recall, save your paperwork -- if your car is recalled in the future for related issues, you might be eligible for reimbursement. Occasionally, someone else is willing to take responsibility for your car -- don't squander such a rare opportunity.