Last summer, we told you about the Department of Transportation's plan to develop a website that would allow motorists to see if their ride had been recalled simply by typing in their vehicle identification number, or VIN.
As of today, that website is officially up and running.
Maintained by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the site is one of the simplest you're likely to find -- at least on the surface. Just plug in your VIN, enter the Captcha code to prove you're not a robot, and hit the "submit" button. That's it.
On the backend, things are a bit more complicated. It appears that NHTSA has stuck with its original plan to avoid storing recall data on its own servers and instead use the search engine to query VIN databases hosted by individual automakers. So, for example, if you want to see whether your Jeep has been recalled, NHTSA's website will pull VIN data from Jeep's servers to verify whether it has or hasn't.
Why does that matter? Because this arrangement keeps this data out of the federal government's hands, leaving it with the entity that knows it best: the individual automaker. In other words, the automaker doesn't have to compile all that data, then send it off to NHTSA, where it's integrated in a much larger database (making data loss and mis-matches far more likely). Instead, automakers keep a running tab of affected VINs, which is then accessed by the NHTSA search engine.
If you prefer, you can also run a VIN search on your automaker's website. Not only does the maker of your car have the necessary data, but the same regulations that established NHTSA's comprehensive database also required individual automakers to maintain their own, brand-specific, VIN search engines. (Not that every company has been on top of that.)
Like another website we could name, this one could have a bumpy rollout, but in the long run, it's a vast improvement on the current system.
Before today, if you wanted to see whether your car had been recalled, you could either (a) check NHTSA's recall site (though it wouldn't provide precise info about individual cars), (b) check your automaker's customer care website (assuming it maintained up-to-date recall info), or (c) read sites like this one and wait for the recall notice to arrive in the mail. As much as we love having you stop by each day, we know that none of those options were ideal.
Give the new website a whirl and let us know what you think. You'll find it at SaferCar.gov.