WASHINGTON — Two trade associations representing major automakers are working to develop a unified industry database that would make it easier for states and other entities to collaborate on recalls.
The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers and the Association of Global Automakers are negotiating a contract with an unidentified service provider to create the database, which would support bulk searches of vehicle identification numbers. The system essentially will deliver batches of VINs that are subject to an unresolved safety defect or recall, with a summary description of each problem and any available remedy, said Wade Newton, a spokesman for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, whose members include the Detroit 3, Toyota Motor Corp. and eight other automakers.
Bulk VIN searches are currently difficult to perform but far preferable to looking through each automaker's database for individual registrations.
The batch VIN search service will be offered to state divisions of motor vehicles, vehicle registrars, state vehicle inspection programs, insurance companies, auto finance companies, dealerships, fleets and vehicle auction companies, but specific participation details have yet to be determined, Newton said.
The system could be operational as soon as the first half of 2018.
The auto trade groups, in comments submitted to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in 2015, said the concept of linking re-registration to recall completion has promise but that vehicle owners should not be denied registration for failing to participate in a recall for which parts are not available.
NHTSA doesn't mandate an industry recall database. Its website has a tool that allows motorists to look up recalls by their VIN, but critics say most people aren't aware of it and don't take the initiative to check it.
Meanwhile, NHTSA is also more than a year overdue issuing a rule requiring automakers to notify owners about recalls electronically, in addition to via first-class mail. The law also requires a report on the feasibility of including an indicator in new vehicles that would alert the owner when the vehicle is subject to a recall.
In October, federal safety regulators awarded a $222,300 grant to the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration to facilitate recall notifications with vehicle registration. The demonstration is designed to figure out issues such as database compatibility between automakers and motor vehicle agencies, the best methods for communication with owners and whether defects were subsequently addressed.
Congress authorized grants for up to six states, but Maryland was the only one to apply. The Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration said it will obtain the recall information from Cox Automotive, an industry service provider, and notify owners and lessees beginning in April.
Jason Levine, executive director at the Center for Auto Safety, said NHTSA also could do a better job publicly pressuring automakers to take full responsibility for safety defects by quickly issuing recalls instead of sometimes accepting explanations that a less costly remedy can resolve the problem. If automakers won't move fast enough, NHTSA should use its authority to order the recall itself, Levine said.
Last month, the center petitioned NHTSA to order the recall of 2017 Chrysler Pacifica minivans to fix a problem with engine stalling it claims Fiat Chrysler Automobiles has known about since April.
Some states are considering ways to raise consumer awareness about recalls.
California enacted legislation in 2016 requiring the department of motor vehicles to include a generic reminder statement to check the vehicle recall status when sending registration renewal notices. An early version of the legislation would have required a notice indicating any open recalls on a resident's specific vehicle.
In 2015, a proposal requiring vehicle owners to be notified of a recall when having their vehicle inspected failed to pass the New York legislature. Similar legislation was reintroduced this year.
A bill failed this year in Florida that would have required with the vehicle registration notice a generic reminder about the importance of checking www.safercar.gov and getting any recalls repaired, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.