WASHINGTON - The federal government will require automakers to mark the parts of millions more vehicles even though the effectiveness of the labeling as a theft deterrent has been difficult to measure.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that when the program is expanded for the 2006 model year, about 3.25 million more cars and trucks will have to have major parts marked with vehicle identification numbers, at a cost of about $6 per vehicle. About 9.3 million vehicles a year are subject to parts-marking requirements.
The program, introduced in 1987, has been limited to cars and light trucks considered to be the favorites of thieves. But provisions in federal law required an expansion to other models if it were deemed successful in discouraging theft. Such a ruling was made in 2000.
Expansion costs could be considerably higher than predicted if police agencies succeed in lobbying for more lasting marks, such as stampings or etchings, rather than adhesive labels.
Parts that must be marked include engines, transmissions, bumpers, fenders, hoods, doors, quarter panels, cargo boxes, trunk lids, tailgates and hatches.
NHTSA also is asking for comment on whether it should require that airbags be marked and that windows be etched with numbers.
The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, representing 13 car companies, is studying the expansion, but "(we) have made no decisions about how, and if, to proceed," said Gloria Bergquist, alliance vice president.
Officials at the Association of International Automobile Manufacturers said last week that they haven't looked at the details.
Comments on the NHTSA proposal are due by Aug. 26.
Automakers have questioned the effectiveness of the program and have said they are concerned about costs and possible production disruptions if they are required to mark more parts and make markings more lasting.
The 1984 federal law requiring the marking of parts to deter theft set a cap on how much automakers can be forced to spend on the program. Because of inflation, the cap has risen from $15 to $24.86 per vehicle, NHTSA said.
The law required that only vehicles deemed to be attractive to thieves had to have their parts marked - so-called high-theft vehicles. Companies could apply for exemptions for those with anti-theft devices as standard equipment.