At the end of March it will become a lot easier to get a clear view of banks' auto loan holdings.

That's when regulators will begin requiring banks to break down the auto loans on their books.

It has been difficult to know just how much individual banks hold in auto loans, as most clump them into the "other consumer loans" category in their call reports with regulators.

Formally known as consolidated reports of condition and income, call reports are filed quarterly with regulators as a way to monitor a lender's condition, performance and risk profile.

In September, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, the Federal Reserve Board and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. proposed a number of changes to what banks are required to include in their call reports to get a better picture of banks' lending activities and a deeper understanding of potential credit and liquidity risks.

"Automobile loans are a significant consumer business for many large banks," the agencies observed in their proposal.

"Because of the limited disclosure of auto lending on existing regulatory reports, supervisory oversight of auto lending is presently diminished by the need to rely on the examination process and public information sources that provide overall market information but not data on idiosyncratic risks."

Conversely, all nonbank depository institutions are required to report auto loan data, and they originate less than 5% of auto loans, the regulators said.

More disclosure on auto lending could have been helpful during the financial crisis, the agencies said, "when funds were scarce for finance companies in general and the finance companies affiliated with automakers in particular."

The lack of data "hindered the banking agencies' ability to estimate the extent to which banks were filling in the gap in auto lending left by the finance companies."

Banks will be required to separate their auto loan holdings in the following categories in their call reports: Loans and Leases; Past Due and Nonaccrual Loans, Leases, and Other Assets; and Chargeoffs and Recoveries on Loans and Leases.

The new loan category will include loans from retail sales of passenger cars and other vehicles such as minivans, vans, sport-utility vehicles and pickup trucks.

It will exclude loans to finance fleet sales, personal cash loans secured by vehicles already paid for, loans to finance the purchase of commercial vehicles and farm equipment, and lease financing.

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