The driver-side dashboard, one place to find a car's VIN

One place to find your car’s VIN. Image courtesy NHTSA

Every year, millions of vehicles are recalled in the U.S. because of safety defects or noncompliance with federal safety standards, according to a press release from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). With so many recalls, how can we keep up? asks Stephanie Mlot writing for PC. Now there is a way. As of yesterday, NHTSA debuted its free online search tool that will make it easier for car owners to know if their car has been affected by a recall.

As NHTSA’s press release says:

‘Safety is our highest priority, and an informed consumer is one of our strongest allies in ensuring recalled vehicles are repaired,’ said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. ‘Starting today car owners, shoppers, and renters can find out if a specific vehicle has a safety defect that needs to be fixed – using our free online tool.’

Using the VIN (vehicle identification number), owners can search for possible safety recalls on NHTSA’s website, via the agency’s new, more precise way to search online for recalls, Reuters reports. Before the launch, vehicle owners could search for recalls by the make, model, and year of a vehicle, “but the number of vehicles actually subject to a recall could be smaller than the search result,” Reuters writes.

NHTSA has also begun requiring manufacturers of light vehicles and motorcycles to provide online searchability for recalls using the VIN, as Reuters writes. In cars, the 17-digit VIN can be found on the driver-side dashboard or on inside of the driver-side door where it latches, NHTSA writes.

The agency requires manufacturers to update data at least weekly, NHTSA writes, adding:

NHTSA’s new VIN look-up tool directly relies on information from all major automakers, and regularly updated information from the automakers is critical to the efficacy of the search tool.

The agency is working with the National Automobile Dealers Association to help ensure that franchise dealers throughout the country are aware of and know how to use the new VIN search tool, NHTSA writes.

It is extremely important for vehicle owners to get their vehicles fixed, says NHTSA Deputy Administrator David Friedman. And the new VIN search capability also helps protect people who rent vehicles. He says:

‘By making individual VIN searches readily available, we’re providing another service to consumers — the peace of mind knowing that the vehicle they own, or that they are thinking of buying or renting, is free of safety defects.’

This blog reported back in May that there is no law preventing car-rental companies from keeping recalled vehicles on the road. Rental companies are not required to have recalled vehicles repaired before renting them out, we wrote. In addition, used-car dealers are not required to let customers know that the vehicles they are buying have been recalled but were never repaired.

Manufacturers are required by law to notify owners by mail within 60 days of notifying NHTSA of a recall. In addition, to learn whether your car is affected by a recall in the future, you can register your car and receive NHTSA email notifications here, or get alerts sent directly to your phone.

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