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With so many vehicle recalls, we all need to do our own research

Earlier this month, we wrote about the ongoing scandal involving defective Takata airbags. The recall now includes tens of millions of vehicles made by 14 major auto manufacturers, and it seems as though regulators still do not know the full scope of the problem.

Sadly, the Takata recall hardly stands out in an industry where manufacturing and design defects now seem to be the rule rather than the exception. So many automakers have issued major recalls in recent decades that Americans can no longer keep up. Many of us may unwittingly be driving a vehicle that has been recalled due to serious safety defects.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recently proposed a solution to the problem of recall overload, but the solution is far from ideal. The NHTSA essentially wants all Americans to do research on their own vehicles at least twice each year. The effort is known as the "Safe Cars Save Lives" campaign.

A major component of recalls is a list of vehicle identification numbers (VINs), sometimes referred to as serial numbers. Automakers identify the VINs of vehicles which need to be recalled and then match that data to the listed owners of those vehicles. Because people relocate and sell vehicles, however, the information doesn't always reach those who need it.

Thankfully, safety regulators have set up websites where consumers can type in their VINs and find out if their vehicle is part of a recall. The search is very quick and easy. The difficult part is remembering to do it on a regular basis.

Recall lists are constantly being updated. So even if your vehicle hasn't been recalled today doesn't mean that it won't be recalled a few months from now. That's why the NHTSA wants all car owners to search the database at least twice per year.

Should Americans be expected to conduct their own research on vehicle recalls? No. But until or unless a more reliable system is put in place, this may be the best way for every car owner to protect himself and his family.

If you'd like to check your vehicle's recall status, visit SaferCar.gov.

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