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Navigating the Used Car Sales Minefield

Mar 15, 2017

What are the risks of knowingly buying a used car with an open safety recall based on the dealer’s promise to repair it when the replacement parts become available?

Historically, buying a used car was never a particularly pleasant experience. Many Americans felt distrustful of aggressive salesmen and worried about overpaying. Plus they wondered if they were buying a shiny “junker” that would break down two blocks from the sales lot.

Dealer fraud has been curtailed somewhat over the years as a result of government agencies and watchdog groups, including the Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) which is responsible for the regulation of used car sales advertising practices.

Because of the FTC oversight, used car buyers tend to more openly trust dealer advertising. In particular, when potential buyers see a certified preowned (“CPO”) designation on a used vehicle, many see that as “an indication that a qualified mechanic has vouched for the car” and there is a presumption that the car is safe to drive.

Unfortunately, the record-breaking Takata® airbag recall, which spans virtually all major automotive manufacturers, as well as host of other significant safety defect recalls have muddied the waters of used car sales practices lately.

A recent FTC ruling allows used car dealers to bill a vehicle as “certified” even if it contains a safety recall and the defect has not been fixed. Dealers must simply refrain from advertising the CPO vehicles with open recalls as “safe” and must get buyers to sign forms acknowledging that the open recall was disclosed to them.

While a suit has recently been filed against the FTC in an effort to reverse that ruling, it hasn’t stopped at least one major automotive manufacturer from loosening its standards. Prior to that ruling, it was the practice of “every major car company” not to allow the sale of CPO vehicles with open recalls.

So what is a prospective used car buyer to do?

One of the first and easiest ways to protect yourself is to go to the safercar.gov link and do a free search using the VIN number of the vehicle you are interested in buying. There you can find the status of any recalls on that particular vehicle—not just that make and model, but that actual vehicle. You can check auto recalls here, too.

The trouble with buying a used car from a large manufacturer, even with a disclosure of the defect and a promise to repair it when and if the replacement parts become available, is that in the meantime you are driving an unsafe car. In the case of Takata® airbag recalls, there have been 11 deaths and nearly 200 injuries reported as a result of those airbags sometimes exploding violently, even in very low impact incidents, and sending shrapnel throughout the passenger cabins as previously reported on this blog.

Due to the sheer volume of air bag and other recalls, the shortage of replacement parts has caused a backlog in even the largest manufacturers’ ability to make all the needed repairs in a timely manner.

This problem has not only affected the large manufacturers and their consumers, but also poses a potentially business-busting reality for smaller used car dealers who are not authorized and certified to make safety recall repairs and therefore must rely on the big manufacturers’ dealers to make the recall repairs for them and their customers. As a result, many small used car dealers are pressured to sell the unsafe vehicles with open recalls, knowing that their big manufacturer competitors will put their own waiting buyers’ recall repairs ahead of those who bought from the small dealers.

Now more than ever, used car buyers need the protection of an attorney experienced in dealer fraud and unfair trade act claims.

The Law Firm of Timothy A. Abeel & Associates is exclusively dedicated to the practice of lemon law, breach of warranty and fraud cases. Call us today at 888-611-5481 for a free case evaluation.

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If your car was manufactured between 2018 and 2023 we may be able to help. Contact us for more information.