Starting next summer, U.S. consumers will be able to search a giant database to find out if their cars or motorcycles have been recalled and if the vehicles have been fixed.
Only about 70 percent of recalled vehicles are taken to dealers for repairs, leaving thousands of cars on the road with potentially critical safety flaws. The database will let car owners search for free to see if they missed a recall notice, and used car shoppers will be able to see if all recall work has been done on cars they want to buy.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the agency that regulates auto safety, said Wednesday that it will require major auto and motorcycle makers to give customers online access to data so it can be searched by vehicle identification number.
The searches will give people "peace of mind knowing that the vehicle they own, or that they are thinking of buying, is safe," NHTSA Administrator David Strickland said in a statement.
Currently, automakers search state registration data to find owners of vehicles that are being recalled and notify them by mail.
Some automakers, such as Ford Motor Co., already offer the database searches. Those that don't will have to make the data available by Aug. 14 of next year, NHTSA said in a statement issued Wednesday. People also will be able to access the data through NHTSA's website, www.safercar.gov, which will have secure connections to the manufacturers' systems.
Customers will be able to go to NHTSA's website and key in a unique vehicle identification number. This "VIN" number normally is attached to a car's dashboard near where it meets the windshield. It's also on a vehicle's title and registration.
NHTSA plans to develop an app to allow for searches on mobile devices, the agency said.
Currently, people can search NHTSA's database by company, model and model year to find out if cars have been recalled. But they can't find out if the repairs have been done on a particular vehicle.
Manufacturers will be required to update their recall data at least once per week, NHTSA said.
Carfax, a service that charges used-car buyers to check a vehicle's title history and see if it's had any major repairs, already offers a recall check for no charge on its website, http://recall.carfax.com . The check covers only recalls where companies are still making repairs.
Ford, Lincoln and Mercury owners or buyers can check their cars at http://owner.ford.com/servlet/ContentServer?pagename=Owner/Page/RecallsPage.
NHTSA said its rule on the databases also requires manufacturers to tell the agency about each car's propulsion system and safety technologies. The agency says this will help it spot problems with the systems. Also under the rule, auto and motorcycle makers will have to notify owners about a recall within 60 days of telling NHTSA of the recall, the agency said.