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Buyers Beware: Safety Defects in Used Cars

While common wisdom tells us that buying used cars is still a financially sound decision, CarFax, a company that sells report of vehicle history, warn that about 20% of trucks and cars recalled in the United States for safety defects have not yet been repaired.

The percentage, though minimal, still accounts for more than 46 million recalled vehicles in the country. And what’s alarming is that these defects, when left unchecked, can result in serious, if not fatal, automobile crashes.

In 2014 alone, about 5 million of these unrepaired vehicles went to buyers across the country, spawning concerns that it is only a matter of time when these defects would result in serious accidents.

So, why were there no safety checks that would have averted the sale of these unsafe cars in the first place? The answer lies on the legal loopholes. In the U.S., sellers are not required to repair these defects or even disclose to buyers that a particular car is possibly for recall.

For Carfax used-car specialist Chris Basso, such cases are a “major public safety problem,” and that if these cars remain unrepaired, the problem could accumulate in time and the probability of these vehicles to malfunction could increase over the years. Chris Basso identified about 20% of the 238 million recalled cars have not been repaired according to the state registration data. Yet these numbers are still set to rise because of new data that shows very high number of recalled unfixed cars in 2014 — about 64 million — and that’s about double the 2004 data.

To address such threat to motorists, federal regulators are now in the process of coming up with a law to make repairs for recalled cars mandatory. Although a number of car dealers do not agree to the new legislation, new government database will allow easier disclosure of the conditions of recalled cars, leaving the dealers no option but to comply.

Related Accidents

On January 18, 35-year-old Carlos Solis died in Houston when a shrapnel from his 2002 Honda Accord airbag hit part of his neck after a minor accident. The father of two had no other physical injuries when the accident happened, according to Rob Ammons, the lawyer representing Solis’s family. The victim’s Accord was recalled in 2011 amidst the controversy involving Takata airbags with inflators that can explode with dangerously excessive force when set off. And not even the previous owners and dealer of the Accord had the car fixed.

In a yet another disturbing related accident, 36-year-old John Castro, reported that, just last year, after he traded his vehicle for a 2011 Toyota Prius, he learned that the model he took was for recall because of a faulty hybrid component that could result in the engine stalling. The dealer, Koons Ford, had not fixed the repair and Castro said no one informed him of the recall. But at present, there is still no existing legislation that would require car companies to contact the new owner of second-hand cars for recall.

Car Dealers’ Initiative

Although the federal government requires dealers to make repairs on defects in new cars, more legislation is required for used vehicles.

So it’s up to individual car dealers to proactively inform buyer before every sale. For example, CarMax, the largest used car dealer chain in the U.S., says that although the company does not repair the defects, it discloses the recalls to buyers. And another dealership group, AutoNation says that when parts required for repairs are available, they do fix the defects before selling the vehicles. Only when the required parts are not available do they inform the buyers.

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