The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has implemented a free internet search tool (www.safercar.gov) to determine whether vehicles have been recalled but not repaired. The recall information through the VIN search tool is supposed to be provided to NHTSA by a manufacturer conducting a recall.
At www.safercar.gov, the public may check the status of recalls under the “Recalls Look-up by VIN” section by entering the VIN number of the vehicle. NHTSA claims that the site will report whether the vehicle has not been repaired as part of a safety recall in the last 15 years. Once A VIN is submitted, the site is supposed to provide: year of vehicle, make and model of vehicle, and number of open recalls.
According to NHTSA the website provides:
- Safety recalls that are incomplete on a vehicle
- Safety recalls conducted over the past 15 calendar years
- Safety recalls conducted by major light auto automakers, including motorcycle manufacturers.
NHTSA’s search tool does not provide:
- Completed safety recall information
- Manufacturer customer service or other non-safety recall campaigns
- Recently announced safety recalls for which not all VINs have been identified
- Safety recalls that are over 15 years old, except if a manufacturer offers more coverage
- Safety recalls conducted by small vehicle manufacturers, including some ultra-luxury brands and specialty applications
The search tool is available for vehicles produced by all major manufacturers. NHTSA requires that manufacturers also provide the same internet search capabilities, using a vehicle’s VIN, on the manufacturer’s website.
For some time, we have emphasized that it is a best practice for dealers is to review the recall history of used-vehicles of a line-make they sell as new. However, with this new capability, dealers can search the recall history for practically any used vehicle they sell. It is now a best practice for a dealer to check recall history of any used car it sells on www.safercar.gov.
What is the downside of failing to search the used cars you sell? A plaintiff’s attorney may claim that a buyer’s vehicle was in an accident because of a defect not discovered by the dealer when it easily could have done so on the new site. This new capability provides a litigation tool for plaintiffs’ attorneys representing injured used vehicle buyers.
What is the upside of checking the site? There are several.
- A dealer that searches the site to determine open recalls and remedy those can provide assurance to its customers that all recalls have been handled on a vehicle. In a year where the public has seen a record number of recalls, that can be a strong selling point to customers who may be concerned because of story after story on recalls.
- For vehicles of the brand the dealer sells, the service department can do the work to handle the recall.
- For used vehicles of a brand the dealer does not sell as new, the open recall could lead to work for the service department at an affiliated dealership.
- Handling open recalls or assuring there are no open recalls, and maintaining records of those results, will provide proof there were no open recalls at the time of sale in a lawsuit by an injured customer.