Thousands of cars are up for sale with parts that are currently a part of open safety recalls. But that's something that, legally, the dealer doesn't have to tell you.
According to Carfax, 2.7 million used vehicles that were up for sale in 2011 were involved in safety recalls, but never fixed. Many say those vehicles pose a risk to you and your family whether you're driving one or passing by one on the highway.
Anita Ficke said she'll always remember her drive home on April 4, 1999.
"I was driving home from visiting friends from northern Indiana," said Ficke. "I was traveling down I-65 South."
That's when she said her 1994 Mercury Cougar's temperature gauge instantly jumped into the danger zone.
"The car started shuddering," said Ficke. "I could hear engines. There was metal on metal. It scared me. I found the nearest exit. I pulled over. There was steam coming out from my tailpipe."
The car had to be towed 230 miles to her then-home in Harrison, Indiana.
The mechanic told her that her car's head gasket had blown. However, the manufacturer would later reveal that the head gasket should have been fixed before Ficke ever bought that used car in 1998.
Thousands of people from across the country have had similar experiences; their vehicles breaking down or worse, bursting into flames all because of faulty parts that could have been fixed for free.
"It wasn't until about a year and a half later a friend of mine said they'd heard Ford had a major recall," said Ficke.
The head gasket in Ficke's car was eventually included in a major safety recall. Ficke said she never received a notice and the dealer never told her, but legally, the dealer didn't have to notify her. New car dealerships are not allowed to sell cars with open recalls, but used car dealers are allowed to sell them.
According to Carfax, last year 30,000 cars in Kentucky were up for sale with an open recall. In Indiana, 51,000 vehicles were up for sale with an open recall on them, and in Ohio, 81,000 cars were up for sale.
That figure doesn't include the vehicles currently on the road that soon could be up for sale.
To test how widespread the problem is, we went online. We looked at used car listings, took the VIN number provided, and easily found vehicles for sale in the area with parts involved in safety recalls that had never been fixed.
Then with hidden cameras rolling, we visited the used car dealerships.
The majority of salesmen told us that the cars in question had just been sold. However, a 2002 Honda Accord LX was still on the lot. It needed a crucial repair of the driver's side airbag. We even asked the salesman about recalls, and he told us he didn't know of any for that particular vehicle.
"There is no law that requires a seller to disclose an open recall to you," said Carfax Spokesperson Chris Basso.
Basso said legally it's your responsibility.
"In reality, the parts could break at any time," said Basso. "And we could get caught at any time with a car that could put ourselves and others on the road at risk of injury."
"If it's a safety issue, they should not be allowed to sell this vehicle until they have fixed it," she said.
The National Automobile Dealers Association, or NADA, urges everyone who receives a recall notice to get it fixed immediately. In a statement, leaders added, "the goal of the National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA) is to have 100 percent of recalled vehicles repaired. NADA urges every car owner who receives a recall notice from an automaker to visit their local new-car dealer and have the recalled vehicle inspected and fixed at no charge. Many vehicle manufacturer websites allow consumers to use vehicle identification numbers (VIN) to look up what, if any, recalls apply and if fixes have been completed."
But we wondered why the organization would not encourage a mandate that used car dealers must fix the faulty parts before a vehicle is sold?
We also spoke with the NADA Legislative Affairs Director Bailey Wood, who adds that forcing used car dealers to fix the parts before selling them would place major financial burdens on used car dealers. Bailey said the new owners should fix the parts before the car is able to be registered.
Some dealers also like that idea, adding that it's difficult for them to learn about all of the recalls on their cars. For now, that's just a suggestion and not a law.
Steve Jordan, director of operations at the National Independent Automobile Dealers Association or NIADA, said their organization and their member dealerships support full disclosure. Jordan said that NIADA would also support a universal system. However, he said the issue is that manufacturers aren't all necessarily willing to release the recall information for free to independent dealerships. Currently, independent dealers must pay for services that disclose recall information.
Some dealers do claim to check all of their cars for issues. We're told managers run reports on every car they buy and sell.
Still, Ficke said buyers need to do their own homework.
"Buying used cars, you're just taking a risk," said Ficke.
Ficke has since sold her Cougar.
A mechanic did fix it, and eventually she was reimbursed. That is not usually the case.
In most situations, the manufacturer will fix an open recall for free, but you must take it to an actual manufacturer's dealership. Otherwise, it could void the recall and you'll have to pay out of pocket for the service.
To protect yourself, you need a vehicle's VIN or Vehicle Identification Number. Most VINs are online. You can also call a local dealership and ask them for it.
Once you have it, you can go to Carfax's website. Recall checks are free, but you'll have to pay for more comprehensive reports. If you have access to the actual car, you can also scan the barcode that's usually in the driver's door jam. You'll need to download the Carfax mobile app onto your smart phone or tablet.
Safercar.gov allows consumers to search certain vehicle makes and models, but it won't tell you if your specific car in question is a part of a recall.
Lastly, you can always have a mechanic inspect your car.
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