A new online search tool allows consumers to type in a vehicle identification number, or VIN, to check on whether recall repairs have been completed on a specific car, truck or motorcycle. The service, which began Wednesday, is available on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) website — safercar.gov — or the sites of individual automakers.

The free search tool lets consumers quickly learn whether a vehicle they are thinking about buying has a safety problem that has not been addressed. Recalled vehicles can be repaired without charge at franchised dealers.

This is the first time consumers will be able to use a VIN on the safety agency’s site to determine whether a recall problem has been addressed on a particular car. The service will also be available on NHTSA’s Safercar app for iOS and Android devices.

Recall defects often aren’t addressed by a vehicle’s owner even if that person knows of the problem, David Friedman, the deputy administrator of NHTSA, said in a news teleconference Tuesday.

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Previously, consumers who visited the safety agency’s website to check on recalls could search by vehicle make and model year to learn whether a particular model was, in general, subject to a recall. They could not, however, find out whether a specific used car — perhaps one they were considering buying — had been recalled, but not repaired.

Although some automakers had a feature that allowed consumers to check for incomplete recalls by using a VIN, that feature was not always easy to find. The highway safety agency issued a final rule a year ago that required all major automakers and motorcycle manufacturers to provide a VIN look-up tool, to place it prominently on their consumer websites and to update the information at least once a week.

The new rule is expected to help increase recall-completion rates for all vehicles. The safety agency said only about 70 percent of recall repairs were made. Recall data will go back at least 15 years under the new rules.