NHTSA launched its VIN lookup to search for outstanding recalls on vehicles last year, and it also mandated that automakers offer similar capabilities. Unfortunately, Cars.com found major flaws in the government's database for the Takata airbag campaign. After hundreds of queries, the website discovered cases where the tool incorrectly showed the repairs already completed or didn't list a model at all.
One of the newly discovered problems came from Ford. NHTSA's search didn't show the Mustang as being part of the driver-side inflator recall, despite being covered. Cars.com eventually learned that this was essentially an issue of semantics. The Blue Oval called the repairs a customer service program, and therefore the models weren't showing up in queries.
Since Cars.com presented its investigation to NHTSA, things have changed. The Feds now require all Takata campaigns to be searchable from its tool, regardless of how an automaker labels them.
Cars.com is also advocating for further changes in NHTSA's search and is giving some advice to used-car buyers. It believes that the government's tool should display both completed and unrepaired recalls to give drivers a better understanding, rather than just the latter under the current system. Furthermore, if someone is looking to purchase a model with an affected Takata airbag, the website recommends consumers ask sellers directly whether the vehicle is already fixed.