- This is the nation's first universal, manufacturer-agnostic recall information site.
- All major automobile and motorcycle manufacturers are represented.
- The system checks individual VINs (vehicle identification numbers) and reports on any open recalls for which the repair work has not yet been done.
WASHINGTON — A century-long information drought ends today as federal safety regulators launch a universal recall look-up tool that will enable consumers to discover the recall status of any passenger vehicle or motorcycle sold in the U.S. since 1999.
The new tool, available on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's safercar.gov site, is the first ever to provide recall status information on all major vehicle makes and models regardless of the vehicle's manufacturer or the inquiring consumer's ownership status. It uses each vehicle's unique VIN (vehicle identification number) and covers vehicles dating back to 1999.
The new VIN look-up system represents a critical advance in vehicle safety. Because finding such information has been difficult in the past, millions of vehicles still subject to recalls are on the road today without having had the proper repairs to fix the safety issue that prompted the recall.
NHTSA estimates that only about 70 percent of the vehicles involved in recall campaigns are brought to dealerships to have the corrective repairs done. More than 215 million vehicles, most of them passenger cars and light trucks, have been covered by recalls in the U.S. since 2004.
The used-car market, especially, is loaded with "open recall" vehicles and there is no requirement that sellers inform buyers of a vehicle's recall status. Edmunds.com's report on the issue discloses the scope of the problem. The chore of checking on recall status is left to a vehicle's present owner or a prospective buyer. Automakers and their dealers typically handle recall work on unsold new cars and trucks that are still in their inventories.
For consumers, though, information has been hard to come by until now.
Individual automakers operate their own recall sites, and broad recall campaign information is available on a number of independent sites, including Edmunds.com.
But some manufacturers limit access only to vehicle owners — not shoppers.
The independent sites, as well as NHTSA's own recall information site, could not provide information about an individual vehicle or could not access information about individual vehicles from all manufacturers.
The new NHTSA recall look-up tool includes all major automakers. It is the result of a multi-year effort by the agency to get vehicle manufacturers to send weekly updates of recall information to the agency in a form that could be shared with the public. Some car companies are providing several updates each week, said Jim Schulte, NHTSA's director of digital services.
"We cannot urge Americans strongly enough to take immediate action if your vehicle has an open recall," said Daniel Smith, senior associate administrator for vehicle safety at NHTSA.
To use the new recall look-up tool, all a consumer needs is a vehicle's VIN — a vehicle identification number consisting of 17 letters and digits. The VIN location can vary, but the number is always printed on the vehicle's registration and on insurance identification cards. The VIN also is stamped on each vehicle in several places — most often on the driver's side of the dashboard, visible through the windshield, and on a tag affixed to the driver-side door frame.
Inputting the VIN in the tool fetches a report that will either state that there are no open recalls (meaning the consumer doesn't need to do anything) or will list all open recalls, for which the necessary repair work has not been done.
Armed with that information, a consumer can take his or her vehicle to the appropriate dealership to have the repair work done.
There is no charge for using the tool and no charge to have recall work performed.
NHTSA's Smith said that the agency is working with the National Automobile Dealers Association to ensure that all new-car dealerships use the tool to check on used vehicles in their inventories, and NADA released a statement today supporting the initiative.
"Historically, less than 70 percent of all recalled vehicles get fixed. Our goal is to see 100 percent of those vehicles remedied," said NADA Chairman Forrest McConnell, who owns Honda and Acura dealerships in Montgomery, Alabama.
Edmunds says: It's about time! Consumers finally can check on cars they own and cars they want to buy, and once the outstanding recalls are taken care of we'll all be safer.