• New NHTSA VIN tool helps drivers locate safety recalls
  • Tool requires drivers to visit website, plug in VIN
  • System then checks automaker records to see if the car is subject to open recalls

Like millions of Americans, you probably aren't entirely sure if your vehicle -- or the used car that you're thinking about buying -- is currently subject to any recalls. Fortunately, a new tool from the federal government's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) will make it easier to find out.

That's the latest from the agency, which recently revealed a new online VIN search tool aimed at drivers who own a used car or those who are contemplating such a purchase. To use it, drivers simply visit NHTSA's dedicated website and type in a VIN. The system then checks through its records to see if the car is subject to any open recalls or safety campaigns.

"By making individual VIN searches readily available, we're providing another service to consumers," said NHTSA Deputy Administrator David Friedman, noting that the system offers drivers "the peace of mind knowing that the vehicle they own, or that they are thinking of buying or renting, is free of safety defects."

According to NHTSA, the VIN lookup tool can check thousands of safety records, all of which are updated weekly using data from automakers. Still, it's important to note that the VIN lookup isn't perfect, and it can't assess the mechanical condition of an individual car. Instead, it only looks at safety recall records, meaning that drivers who want a full mechanical report will likely have to visit a trusted mechanic for a closer look.

What it means to you: NHTSA's new VIN lookup tool will help drivers find out if the car they want -- or the car they're driving -- currently has any open safety recalls.

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Doug DeMuro has a wide range of automotive industry experience, from work at a Ferrari dealership to a manager for Porsche North America. A lifelong car enthusiast, Doug's eclectic vehicle purchases include a Porsche 911 Turbo, an E63 AMG wagon, an old Range Rover and a Mercedes Benz G-wagen.

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