Rule aims to get more recalled cars fixed via improved search

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Posted: Thursday, August 15, 2013 12:00 am

A new federal rule will make it easier for car owners and buyers to figure out whether a vehicle needs fixing.

Under the rule, automakers must provide a free online tool that will allow owners or shoppers hunting for a used car to punch in an individual vehicle’s 17-digit identification number and learn whether it is subject to a recall and whether the fix has already been made.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is requiring the tool — with the support of the auto industry — in an effort to get more cars fixed. Only about half of recalled vehicles are repaired now, depending on the brand and model, according to industry estimates.

“There are some people who are not reached, and there are a significant number of people who don’t respond,” said Jack Nerad, an analyst at auto information company Kelley Blue Book. “They figure the car is running fine and don’t bother to get it fixed.

“This is an important issue,” he said. “People should respond to safety recalls.”

Each manufacturer will devise its own search tool, which can be used on its website or on the NHTSA’s website, safercar.gov. Automakers will be required to update the information at least weekly, NHTSA said.

“Safety is our highest priority, and an informed consumer is one of our strongest allies,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx.

Several automakers already offer such a tool, including General Motors, Ford and Chrysler. The rest will have to do so by next August, and all will be linked to the NHTSA’s website. The rule also applies to motorcycle manufacturers.

General information about recalls is already available online from NHTSA. But consumers can make only a general search by make and model year, not by vehicle identification number, or VIN.

“We all want speedy repair of recalled vehicles, and the goal here is to increase recall completion rates through greater consumer awareness,” said the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, an industry trade group. It said having each manufacturer supply the recall information on its website, rather than creating a separate government database, “is both effective and saves duplication of efforts.”

In addition, car companies will be required to give federal regulators more data on what type of propulsion system and crash-avoidance technologies recalled vehicles contain. That’s to allow NHTSA to more quickly spot defect trends.

Manufacturers still will have to provide vehicle owners with direct notice of recalls within 60 days of notifying NHTSA that a recall is occurring.

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