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Monday, December 29, 2014
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Published: Thursday, 8/21/2014 - Updated: 4 months ago

U.S. database tracks auto flaws

Search tool should help people understand vehicle’s history

BY TYREL LINKHORN
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER

The federal agency in charge of overseeing auto recalls has launched a search tool that allows car shoppers and owners to more easily find unaddressed defects and safety recalls.

Starting immediately, consumers can go to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Web site and punch in a vehicle’s 17-digit identification number for a quick report that will identify any outstanding recalls.

People can access the NHTSA’s searchable database by going to www.safercar.gov/​vinlookup.

To search, people will need to know vehicle’s 17-digit vehicle information number, or VIN. It can be found where the windshield meets the dashboard on the driver’s side, on the driver’s door post, and on insurance and registration documents.

Federal regulators and consumer-safety advocates say the search tool should help people better track their vehicle’s service history, and may lead to more recalled vehicles being repaired. Generally, about one-quarter to one-third of all recalls are never addressed.

“Safety is our highest priority, and an informed consumer is one of our strongest allies in ensuring recalled vehicles are repaired,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in a statement released Wednesday.

The rules requiring NHTSA to create a searchable database date to a 2012 transportation bill, but are timely now. Auto recalls have soared to a record level in 2014, with nearly 40 million recalls issued through the year’s first six months. The biggest chunk have come from General Motors Co., which has struggled through numerous recall campaigns this year.

Rosemary Shahan, president of California-based Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety, praised the search tool.

“It’s going to make it easier for a lot of folks to access this information,” she said.

The database relies on information supplied by car manufacturers, which are required to provide updates at least once a week. Automakers must also provide a search interface on their Web sites. That’s something that some, but not all, companies were already doing.

A GM spokesman on Tuesday called the tool a “a significant step” toward helping owners find accurate recall information.

GM has had its own site up for some time to help owners navigate the company’s multiple recall campaigns this year, though it took some heat earlier this month for returning what NHTSA said was “incorrect and misleading” information. GM has since expanded and updated its site. The company said it will actively work to upload new information in a timely manner.

“Whether through the NHTSA site or our own, we want vehicle owners to easily find the information they need,” said Alan Adler, a spokesman for the company.

A Chrysler Group LLC spokesman said the company already offered VIN searches for recalls on each of its brand Web sites, but was removing the requirement that people register in order to search.

The federal agency is working with the National Automobile Dealers Association to build awareness of the tool, which association officials say should be helpful to dealers in determining if trade-ins and used vehicle inventory under recall have been repaired.

Contact Tyrel Linkhorn at tlinkhorn@theblade.com or 419-724-6134 or on Twitter @BladeAutoWriter.



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