WASHINGTON (Aug. 14, 2013) — Auto makers will be required to install a tool on their Web sites to allow consumers to find out more easily if vehicles have been recalled, under a U.S. rule released today.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) will require all car and motorcycle companies to provide the online recall search tool by Aug. 14, 2014.
Auto makers will also have to make recall notices more explicit, in part by including the words "urgent safety recall"' in capital letters and an enlarged font at the top of the letter.
The changes are designed to answer regulators' concerns that it is still too difficult for customers to figure out whether their cars have been recalled. They say the steps will give customers peace of mind about their vehicles and increase the number of recalled vehicles that are fixed.
The completion rate hovers around 70 percent, NHTSA claims, though it depends on the nature of the defect.
"Safety is our highest priority, and an informed consumer is one of our strongest allies in that effort," Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in a statement.
The new search function will let car owners enter a vehicle identification number. Several auto makers — including Ford Motor Co., Chrysler Group L.L.C., Toyota Motor Corp., American Honda Motor Co. and Volkswagen of America Inc. — already offer that function on their Web sites.
NHTSA already allows car owners to enter their car's make, nameplate and model year to see whether that model has been recalled. In many cases, though, only a small portion of cars from a given model year are defective, making it harder for customers to figure out whether their cars are affected.
Some auto makers will need to redesign their Web sites, but even car makers such as Ford have questioned NHTSA on the change, saying the agency could post links to auto maker Web sites rather than making companies submit the data to regulators.
"Auto makers can provide a one-stop digital storeroom for consumer information that the government cannot provide," said the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, a trade group whose members include Ford, General Motors Co., Chrysler and Toyota, in a statement.
"Consumers go to auto maker websites when they were looking to buy their car, so it makes sense to provide safety recall information on those same websites."
NHTSA is also ordering auto makers to follow new design standards for letters they send to car owners to notify them of recalls. In addition to the words "urgent safety recall" at the top of the letter, requirements include:
- Envelopes must be marked with the phrase "safety recall notice," instead of any other phrase using a different combination of those three words.
- Auto makers must customize each letter to include the VIN of the vehicle owned by the recipient of the letter.
- The envelope must be stamped with the logos of the U.S. Department of Transportation and NHTSA in blue or black text, with a statement in red text saying the letter is "an important safety recall notice issued in accordance with federal law."
During the press conference, Mr. Strickland also addressed the issue of the delayed tire fuel-efficiency regulations.
Gabe Nelson is a reporter for Automotive News, a Detroit-based sister publication of Tire Business.