Survey finds widespread unaddressed safety recalls in used-car sales listings

1 in 9 vehicles had an open recall, according to the examination of more than 2,400 for-sale listings at dealerships under the umbrella of AutoNation.

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This is what was left of a Markham man’s car after a crash in 2017. The car, sold to him by an independent used car dealer that’s no longer in business, was under a safety recall when it was sold.

This is what was left of a Markham man’s car after a crash in 2017. The car, sold to him by an independent used car dealer that’s no longer in business, was under a safety recall when it was sold.

Provided photo

A survey by three consumer advocacy groups of used vehicles offered for sale through the largest automobile retailer in the country has found widespread instances of unaddressed safety recalls.

The survey turned up defective airbags, faulty ignition switches and other potentially deadly problems. One of every nine used vehicles had an unaddressed safety recall, according to the examination of more than 2,400 for-sale listings at dealerships under the umbrella of AutoNation.

The Fort Lauderdale, Florida, company bills itself as “America’s Largest Auto Retailer,” with 360 franchises in 16 states. The survey reviewed listings at 28 AutoNation locations in 16 metro areas, including Chicago.

Of 2,429 vehicles surveyed, 285 had unrepaired recalls — including 10 vehicles at AutoNation locations in Des Plaines and Libertyville. And 14 used cars that were labeled “certified” were still found to have open safety recalls.

The review was done in July and August by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group’s Education Fund, Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety Foundation and the Frontier Group.

The findings mirror a Chicago Sun-Times investigation in February that found used cars being offered for sale in the Chicago area despite open recalls for safety problems including faulty airbags, sudden acceleration, detaching sunroofs and defective ignition switches.

An AutoNation spokesman said “the suggestion ... that AutoNation is knowingly or deliberately seeking to mislead consumers is entirely unfounded.”

Dealers aren’t required by law to fix recalls before selling used vehicles, though there are federal laws prohibiting new cars from being sold with open recalls and also rental cars infleets of more than 35 vehicles being rented, sold or given out as loaners if they are under recall.

Since 1966, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has issued recalls for more than 390 million vehicles because of safety concerns. Carfax, the vehicle-history service, estimates that more than 57 million vehicles on the road today have open, unaddressed recalls.

In 2015, AutoNation said it would stop selling used cars with open recalls. But the company rescinded that promise a year and a half later, saying it had struggled to find enough parts to address the massive Takata airbag recall.

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HOW TO CHECK FOR RECALLS

If you’re shopping for a used car or wondering about the car you own, here’s how to check for recalls:

  • Go to SaferCar.gov, a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration website.
  • Enter your 17-digit vehicle identification number — the VIN.
  • If there’s an open recall, you can get a free repair at any authorized dealer of that brand.
  • If parts aren’t available to immediately address a serious safety recall, ask for a loaner or a rental car.

Marc Cannon, executive vice president of AutoNation, said “the overwhelming majority” of the company’s used vehicles facing recalls are fixed before they are offered for sale. Cannon said salespeople are trained to tell customers about open recalls, including letting them know when parts are unavailable.

But Cannon said that, even if people are offered another car, “overwhelmingly, the customer will say, ‘No, I want this vehicle.’ ”

CarMax also doesn’t require safety recalls to be addressed before its cars are sold, though it says its salespeople are required to check for recalls and share that information with customers so they can go to an authorized dealer, where repairs will be made for free.

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