Detroit's three automakers -- General Motors, Ford and Chrysler -- already offer such a service, but, starting next year, theirs will be linked along with others' via a web portal on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's site, Safercar.gov.
On Wednesday, NHTSA said it will require all manufacturers to provide such an online tool by Aug. 14, 2014. Some, but not all, automakers already offer such a search tool through their own websites.
Recall information by vehicle identification number (or VIN) will have to be updated at least weekly, under NHTSA's ruling. Currently, Safercar.gov offers only general searches by vehicle make and model year.
"Owners and potential buyers alike will soon be able to identify whether a safety recall for their specific vehicle is incomplete," said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx.
The new search feature will allow consumers to tell whether a specific vehicle is subject to a recall and whether it has received the recall remedy or not.
Under the rule to be posted on the Federal Register, large volume car, light truck and motorcycle manufacturers will have to allow consumers to search uncompleted safety recalls by VIN. Manufacturers will also be required to provide vehicle owners direct notices of recalls within 60 days of notifying NHTSA a recall is underway.
By providing the information and linking Safercar.gov with automakers' websites, it is hoped even more consumers react to recall notices. NHTSA says the average completion rate for vehicle recalls is about 70 percent.
"By making individual VIN searches readily available, we're providing another service to car, light truck and motorcycle owners and potential owners - the peace of mind knowing that the vehicle they own, or that they are thinking of buying, is safe," said NHTSA Administrator David Strickland.
Gloria Bergquist, at the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, a group that includes General Motors, Ford, Chrysler, Toyota and other automakers, said providing recall information on manufacturers' websites -- rather than creating a separate government database -- "is both effective and saves duplication of efforts.
"Consumers go to automaker websites when they were looking to buy their car, so it makes sense to provide safety recall information on those same websites," she said. "(These) websites also provide additional information on vehicles ... that would not be available on a separate government website, which was an option that the government chose not to adopt."