WASHINGTON -- Dissatisfied with the share of defective cars that get fixed, U.S. auto safety regulators are making automakers change the way they share recall information with customers.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration last week ordered automakers to equip their public Web sites with a tool that lets car owners search by vehicle identification number to see whether the vehicle has any recalls pending.
Car companies also must follow new design standards for letters notifying customers of defects. For instance, the words "urgent safety recall" will need to appear in large, upper-case type at the top of the letter.
The companies have a year to comply.
Regulators hope the changes will make it easier for owners to figure out whether their vehicles are defective and increase the response to recall campaigns. While the number of recall campaigns has grown in recent years, only about 70 percent of recalled vehicles are repaired.
"Safety is our highest priority, and an informed consumer is one of our strongest allies in that effort," U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in a statement.
Several major automakers, including Ford, allow customers to check for recalls by VIN.
The new rules are less stringent than NHTSA's original proposal. The agency decided not to require automakers to submit updated VIN data to the agency daily. Honda had claimed that such a requirement would cost the company more than $40,000 per day -- or nearly $15 million per year.
NHTSA still plans to set up an industrywide page on its Web site for car owners to enter VINs to check for recalls. That system will rely on secure electronic transmissions of data from automakers' databases.
"We really do read the comments," NHTSA Administrator David Strickland said in a speech to industry leaders last week. "At the end of the day, we do have a common goal here."
Among other new standards for recall notices, each letter will need the vehicle's VIN. The envelopes must be stamped with U.S. Department of Transportation and NHTSA logos in blue or black, along with red text labeling the letter "an important safety recall notice issued in accordance with federal law."
NHTSA is also using the new rule to sniff out safety problems -- or improvements -- resulting from new technology. Under the rule, automakers that post recall information will have to disclose what type of drivetrain and crash-avoidance features the recalled vehicle contains.