Automakers issued more recalls than ever last year. But even as the number of defects in cars mushroomed, many motorists ignored the safety defects lurking under their hoods.

Amid lagging recall participation rates, federal officials took fresh steps Thursday toward convincing car owners to get their defective cars repaired. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration launched a new public-awareness campaign that urges consumers to check for open recalls at least twice a year, and it issued a notice of advanced public rule making that seeks to identify new ways to notify car owners of recalls via mailings that often get mistaken for junk mail.

"Recalls are a serious safety issue that should be promptly addressed," said Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. "An informed consumer is one of our strongest allies in ensuring recalled vehicles are repaired. Do not wait to act if your car is under recall and the parts are available."

Though the fallout from the exploding Takata airbag and General Motors ignition-switch crises took center stage last year, there were hundreds of recalls related to safety defects. Automakers issued 868 recalls for approximately 51.2 million cars in 2015. Both set all-time records, eclipsing marks set in 2014.

But recall completion rates remained low. NHTSA says 75 percent of recalled vehicles get repaired in an average year. The cost of missing or ignoring recall notices can be tragically high. A Pennsylvania teenager was killed by an exploding Takata airbag in July 2015; the car he drove had been recalled in February 2010.

His death highlights the complexity of tracking cars under recall that never get repaired. The car that killed him had been recently sold to a relative who had no idea it was under recall. Unlike laws that prevent new vehicles under recall from being sold until they are repaired, no such measures protect used-car buyers.

Federal officials have mulled the possibility of encouraging states to require recalls to be completed before car registrations can be issued or renewed. In the meantime, they've developed a database in which any car owner can enter a vehicle identification number (VIN) and learn of any open recalls on their car.

Related Video:

Car Recalls: Here's What You Should Do


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