A new federal auto recall search rule will make it easier for car owners and buyers to figure out whether a vehicle needs fixing.

Under the rule, automakers must provide a free online tool that will allow owners, or shoppers hunting for a used car, to punch in a vehicle's 17-digit identification number and learn whether a specific vehicle is subject to a recall and whether it has been fixed.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is instituting the tool -- with the support of the auto industry -- in an effort to get more cars fixed. Only about half of recalled vehicles are repaired, depending on the brand and model, according to industry estimates.

"There are some people who are not reached and there are a significant number of people who don't respond," said Jack Nerad, an analyst at auto information company Kelley Blue Book. They figure the car is running fine and don't bother to get it fixed."

"This is an important issue," he said. "People should respond to safety recalls."

The manufacturers will devise their own search tools, which can be accessed at their websites or through a link at the NHTSA's SaferCar Web page. Makers will be required to update the information at least weekly, NHTSA said.

"Safety is our highest priority, and an informed consumer is one of our strongest allies in that effort," said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx.

Several automakers already offer the tool and the remaining companies will have to do so by next August.

Information about recalls was already available online from NHTSA, but consumers have to make a general search by make and model year. Using a vehicle identification number makes the search simpler and faster.

"We all want speedy repair of recalled vehicles, and the goal here is to increase recall completion rates through greater consumer awareness," the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, an industry trade group, said in a statement. "Providing safety recall information on the websites of automakers is both effective and saves duplication of efforts by government and manufacturers."

The rule also applies to and motorcycle manufacturers.

Additionally, NHTSA will require car companies to give regulators more data on what type of propulsion system and crash avoidance technologies recalled vehicles have. The agency said this will allow it to more quickly to spot defect trends.

Manufacturers also will still have to provide vehicle owners with direct notice of recalls within 60 days of notifying NHTSA that a recall is occurring.