About one fourth of recalled vehicles don’t get repairs, according to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Many of those cars end up on used car lots, and consumer advocacy groups found that nearly 40% of used cars on sales lots have open safety recalls.
Nonprofit group Consumers’ Checkbook collaborated with Consumer Federation of America (CFA) on an investigation into used cars and auto safety recalls. Between 2010 and 2018, roughly 238 million cars and trucks were recalled due to safety defects. To narrow down the scope of research, Checkbook’s researchers chose the following recalled vehicle models manufactured between 2010 and 2019:
• 2014–2018 Chrysler 300
• 2013–2016 Dodge Dart
• 2013–2014 Ford Escape
• 2011–2016 Honda Accord
• 2011–2014 Hyundai Sonata
• 2012–2016 Kia Soul
• 2016–2017 Nissan Maxima
• 2012–2014 Subaru Impreza
• 2011–2019 Toyota Corolla
• 2011–2018 Volvo S60
Researchers used six major used-car websites to find 600 of these vehicles being sold in seven major metro areas.
Using NHTSA’s database, researchers found that 227 of the 600 vehicles had unaddressed recalls for problems such as stalling engines, failing brakes and malfunctioning seatbelts.
Consumers and used-car dealers alike can check for open recalls on a vehicle by perusing the NHTSA’s database, for which we’ve written a guide here. Recall notices will address whether dealers can offer warrantied repairs.
Kevin Braslery, Checkbook’s executive editor, said that the sale of used cars with open recalls is a disturbingly common practice among dealerships.
“What other industry gets a pass on knowingly selling defective dangerous products?” Brasler said. “A store would face massive fines and lawsuits if it knowingly sold contaminated meat or produce or filled prescriptions with medications after a pharmaceutical company warned that they might contain harmful contaminants. So why do we let used-car sellers get away with knowingly peddling dangerously defective vehicles? It’s unacceptable.”
Consumer safety groups have backed The Used Car Safety Recall Repair Act, a bill reintroduced by Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) that would require dealers to address recalls before selling used vehicles.
“The automobile recall program is one of the government’s most important auto safety functions, but to be truly effective, car dealers should not be allowed to simply resell vehicles with known and correctable defects,” said Jack Gillis, CFA’s executive director and author of The Car Book. “Simply put, profiting from the sale of any product with a known defect is unconscionable, and this investigation shows it is happening all the time.”