Sellers not required to reveal, fix open recalls

Fla. among top states with used cars for sale online with unfixed safety recalls

Author: Adrienne Moore, Weekend anchor, reporter, amoore@wjxt.com
Published On: Feb 11 2013 10:10:05 PM EST   Updated On: Feb 11 2013 10:10:00 PM EST
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -

You can’t tell by looking under the hood.  And there won’t be a warning light on your dashboard. But a silent problem cruising inside your used car could be dangerous or even deadly. And there is no law that requires anyone to tell you about it.

“It's about one in every three recalled cars doesn't get fixed. And we see millions of these cars get resold every year,” said CARFAX public relations manager, Christopher Basso.

In 2012, CARFAX found nearly 2.1 million cars with open or unfixed recalls were for sale online nationwide.  Of those vehicles, nearly 100,000 were for sale online right here in Florida.  In fact, CARFAX says Florida, along with California and Texas lead the nation for the second straight year with the highest number of used cars for sale with unfixed recalls.  Georgia fell in the top 10 with over 50,000.

When Channel 4 started investigating these hidden dangers in January, we found lot after lot with vehicles, which according to manufacturers, had unfixed recalls.

At one Jacksonville lot, we discovered a 2002 Ford Escape with two unrepaired defects.  According to the manufacturer, it had an engine that could shut off while driving and an anti-lock brake system that could malfunction.  We also found a 2005 Chevy Cobalt on the same lot with an open recall on its power steering.  The manufacturer’s website said the car could suddenly lose power and cause a crash if it wasn’t fixed.

“These pose a significant risk to public safety in that, at any time, these recalled parts can fail and cause a problem for the people driving the car and for other people on the road," said Basso.

At another Jacksonville lot, we found more cars with open recalls.   An Acura sedan had a driver’s side airbag that could fail to deploy in a crash, and a Honda SUV had problems with its lighting and power window switches, which posed a fire hazard.

"Someone needs to advocate these laws being changed because you don't want to wait and be reactive,” said Channel 4’s Safety Analyst, Ken Jefferson.

There is no federal or state law that requires used car dealers or private sellers to tell buyers about unfixed recalls on used cars. 

A search on cars.com, ebay and craigslist uncovered dozens of local cars with similar recalls.  Jefferson said until the laws change, he urges buyers to do their homework.

“Buyer Beware. You're buying a used car from a used car dealer versus. a nationally known car lot… you're taking a chance, you're taking a risk,” Jefferson said.

The National Independent Automobile Dealers Association released a statement saying it: "...Encourages used vehicle dealers to repair the open recall before selling the vehicle to a customer... and at a minimum disclose it."

The National Automobile Dealers Association said:  "...To improve safety, The National Automobile Dealers Association urges vehicle owners to have recalled vehicles fixed as soon as possible."

“Information is out there,” said Basso.  “Through services like CARFAX, you can check for open recalls FREE at recall.carfax.com and see if an open recall exists on the car that you're buying, or a car that you own,” he added.

Once an unfixed recall is found, franchise dealerships will fix it for free.  CARFAX also encourages buyer to a get a complete report on the car’s history, which isn’t free, but it may uncover other hidden defects.

“No price is too high for your safety and peace of mind. Especially when you're shelling out $10, $15, $20,000 for a used car, said Basso.  “$40 for a CARFAX report and $60, maybe $100 for a mechanic's inspection is well worth the protection it's going to provide you when you're buying a used car, "he continued.

We told employees about the unfixed recalls we found on their lot, and many said they had no idea a free website existed.  After checking back with them, we found all recalls we pointed out have been fixed.

If you'd like to check a vehicle for an open recall, you can go to recall.carfax.com or the Center for Auto Safety at autosafety.org.   You can also always call your manufacturer directly with any questions for your vehicle.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's website also allows you to sign up for automatic notifications of recalls affecting your car.  You can do that at safercar.gov.