A century-long information drought ends 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 (NHTSA) 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.
HHTSA 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. The chore of checking on recall status is left to a vehicle's present owner or a prospective buyer. For consumers, though, information has been hard to come by until now.
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.
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 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.