Every year millions of recalled cars are sold to unsuspecting buyers without the needed repairs. Vehicle history website Carfax just completed a study which shows that in 2012 just over 2 million recalled vehicles were offered for sale online. But that's just online and just the sites Carfax catalogued, so the actual number is probably 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.
How can Carfax tell that the vehicles have been recalled but not repaired? Because the Feds make recall notices for certain makes and models available. And manufacturers and dealers track the VIN numbers of the individual vehicles that are brought in for the needed fix.
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: The very definion of a federal vehicle recall is that there is a safety problem with that make, model and year. So buying a car subject to an open recall could mean you're putting yourself and your family at risk. Two examples from just last month: 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 the passenger airbags to fail to deploy.
On the other hand, if you know the car you are looking at has been recalled, you can use that as a bargaining chip in your price negotiations. You will be able to get the repair for free at a dealership, but you can haggle over the time you are going to have to spend. "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's not happening enough."
Fortunately, it's easy to check. You can try NHTSA's own website, though it's notoriously difficult to navigate. Here is where NHTSA posts recall summaries from the past 6 months. The government portal for broader vehicle safety information is www.SaferCar.gov. However, an easier resource is the FREE recall check Carfax itself offers: recall.carfax.com. Another free resource about recalls and auto safety is the website of the nonprofit Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
Some California legislators are introducing legislation --in the state with the biggest population and the most cars-- that would require sellers to repair recalled vehicles before selling them. And last year, California Senators Boxer and Feinstein sponsored federal legislation to require rental car companies to repair recalled vehicles before putting them on the road again. All of this is a good reminder that if YOU own a vehicle, you shouldn't ignore recall notices --if you're selling or for your own sake. If you are the second owner, you may not receive these notices, so that's another reason to use the resources above to check up on your vehicle. It takes just a few minutes but could save a lifetime of heartache.