When car makers discover a defect that impacts the safety of a vehicle, they are required to notify the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, as well as vehicle owners, dealers and distributors. What those groups do with that information varies. Accidents continue to cause injuries and deaths even after safety problems are identified and these parties are informed.
Part of the problem is that the motivation to have the repairs done is different depending on the person in charge of the vehicle. Rental car agencies may be reluctant to take a group of cars out of their fleet even though the cost of repairs is paid by the auto maker. Not all car owners are in a position to have repairs done when they receive a recall notice in the mail. Finally, despite the effort that goes into publicizing a recall, there are many cases where a vehicle owner is not aware that a car is in need of important repairs.
The NHTSA has launched a new tool to help car owners and those looking to rent or buy a car discover whether a particular vehicle is subject to any recalls. A short search by VIN number will reveal how many open recalls have been issued for a particular car or truck. The NHTSA is requiring auto makers to supply 15 years' worth of data and to keep the list up to date every 7 days.
Owners and prospective owners can search by VIN number at http://www.safercar.gov. If a vehicle has been recalled, but not repaired, that information will be readily available. According to the NHTSA, 25 percent of vehicles that are recalled are still unrepaired 18 months after the recall is announced.
Source: The Chicago Tribune, "How to check if your car was recalled but not fixed," by Jerry Hirsch, 20 August 2014