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New search tool allows consumers to see if vehicle was recalled

There is no question that this has proven to be a very busy year for auto recalls. Indeed, roughly 46 million vehicles have already been recalled this year. To put this in perspective, consider that this equates to nearly one out of every five vehicles on the nation's roads and highways here in the U.S., and that the previous annual recall record set back in 2004 was a mere 30.8 million.

Of course with this deluge of recall notices comes the increased risk that car owners will develop so-called "recall fatigue," meaning they stop paying attention to recall notices or delay getting the necessary repairs. In fact, statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reveal that roughly 25 percent of vehicles subject to recall are still in need of repairs 18 months after the initial recall announcement.

In recognition of this problem and the dangers posed to consumers by unaddressed auto recalls, the NHTSA announced earlier this week that it was launching a new Web-based tool designed to provide valuable recall information on specific automobiles.

The search tool in question is essentially a database that allows the user to enter a vehicle's 17-digit alphanumeric VIN -- found on insurance documents, the front left corner of the dashboard and the driver's side doorpost -- and see whether it was ever the subject of a recall by the manufacturer.

"[The search tool will grant drivers]the peace of mind knowing that the vehicle they own, or that they are thinking of buying or renting, is free of safety defects," said NHTSA Deputy Administrator David Friedman.

Somewhat surprisingly, automakers -- required to provide at least 15 years worth of recall data and updates every seven days -- are on board with the plan.

Some consumer advocacy groups, however, are not entirely enthused by the new NHTSA Web application.

Specifically, they point out that the tool is only available in English and online, a reality that will serve to keep more dangerous cars on the road as many people either don't speak English or are lacking Internet access. Furthermore, they argue that the NHTSA needs to do more to regulate the number of used cars being offered for sale that have been the recalled but never repaired.

These are certainly very valid points that will need to be addressed by the NHTSA going forward. In the meantime, the search tool is a good first stop for prospective used car buyers and all car owners.

Source: The Los Angeles Times, "How to check if your car was recalled but not fixed," Jerry Hirsch, Aug. 20, 2014

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