Pre-Owned Car Buyers Beware: Millions of Cars Resold without Repairs

Millions of recalled cars are sold to unsuspecting buyers without needed repairs every year. Vehicle history website Carfax just completed a study showing that in 2012 just over 2 million unrepaired recalled vehicles were offered for sale online.

That is the figure for online sales and involves only the sites Carfax catalogued, meaning that the actual number is going to be higher. Carfax singled out Iowa, Missouri, Kansas, Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin and Michigan because its data shows the number of recalled vehicles for sale in those states has gone up 25 percent in the past year.

It would be interesting to know just how Carfax is able to tell which vehicles have been recalled but not repaired.  The government makes recall notices for certain makes and models available. Manufacturers and dealers track the VIN numbers (vehicle identification number) of the individual vehicles that are brought in for the necessary repairs.

The fact that recalled vehicles are offered for sale is bad news if you don’t know it, but could be good news if you do. First the bad news: The very definition of a federal vehicle recall is that there is a safety problem with that make, model and year.  If the person buying the pre-owned, recalled vehicle does not know there was a recall on that vehicle, they are putting themselves at risk.

We have reported about many recalled vehicles, of a variety of makes and models, in the past.  A few recent examples: one SUV was recalled because of a problem that could cause it to roll away when parked.  Another make was recalled because a faulty sensor could cause failure of passenger airbags to deploy. Toyota had a very serious recall involving involuntary acceleration while driving.

However, if you know the car you are looking at has been recalled, you can use that as a bargaining tool in your price negotiations. You will be able to get the repair done for free at a dealership, but you can haggle the price because of the time you will have to spend being inconvenienced.

“Before a car changes hands, there are lots of opportunities for everyone involved to check for open recalls,” said Larry Gamache, communications director at Carfax. “Yet this data is proof that it is not happening enough.”

The good news is that is easy to check. You can try NHTSA’s own website, although it is difficult to navigate. That is where NHTSA posts recall summaries from the past six months. The government portal for broader vehicle safety information is  An easier FREE resource is a recall check Carfax offers: There is another free resource regarding recalls and auto safety; check the website of the nonprofit Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

One state has a great idea.  Some legislators in California (the state with the biggest population and the most cars) are introducing legislation that would require sellers to repair recalled vehicles before selling them.  Senators in California last year sponsored legislation requiring rental car companies to repair recalled vehicles before putting them on the road again.

This makes perfect sense. Why should someone be allowed to sell a vehicle to an unsuspecting customer without having the recalled repairs made? That is deliberately putting them and their family at risk. The same goes for rental car companies. They should not be allowed to profit from the sale of unsafe vehicles.

This blog serves as a reminder to all of you who own vehicles not to ignore recall notices, whether or not you are selling your car.  However, if you are a second or third owner of a vehicle, you may never receive any recall notices. For this reason, you should check the websites listed above to research your vehicle. Just a few minutes can save your life.

For more information, contact a Gacovino Lake attorney at 1-800-246-HURT (4878).

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