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What is a TSB (Technical Service Bulletin)?

Mechanic (stock clipart)

Our forums often have questions about problems that are answered by a mechanic citing a "TSB" for the likely problem. A TSB is a "technical service bulletin," a notice from the manufacturer about a known defect or likely problem a specific model of vehicle often has. These problems are not usually safety issues or are rare enough that they do not fall under the federal requirements for safety recalls.

There are thousands of TSBs issued every year by manufacturers for every type of car you might imagine. The TSB will have common information, though format and amount of information will vary by manufacturer. Usually, a TSB contains:

  • The vehicle make (manufacturer/brand)
  • The vehicle model(s)
  • The year or years of manufacture associated with the bulletin
  • The problem or symptoms associated with the problem
  • Parts required for replacement/repair
  • Car computer (PCM/ECM) reboots, reprogramming, or calibration required, if any

Some TSBs are issued solely to announce a part being replaced with a new part (OEM part number) and then citing vehicles that may be affected by the change and why the part(s) were replaced. This is to alert dealerships that they should replace stock of old parts with the replacements and cease using the old parts in repairs.

A TSB is an "internal communication" from a manufacturer to its own dealership networks and internal logistics. Independent shops and aftermarket automotive parts stores do not normally receive TSBs. Some do, but they pay a fee to subscribe to each manufacturer to get it and this is rare in the industry. Some third party companies specialize in selling TSB alerts and individual TSB notices for specific vehicles.

The law requires that technical service bulletins be filed with the federal government via the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), however, which means that while details of the TSB are not made public, the NHTSA does have TSB titles and the vehicles affected. This is to allow the agency to track TSBs for trends and conduct safety investigations into trends that appear to be common enough to warrant it. You can search for TSB titles for any year/make/model at the website.