When Clarence Ditlow says that, "This is an accident waiting to happen," the Executive Director for the Center for Auto Safety is not referring to a drunk driver about to get into his or her car or a hazardous road condition that increases the risk of car accidents.
Rather, he is referring to the legion of recalled used cars that sit in lots across the nation ready for sale, despite the lack of a unified national system to ensure that the condition that prompted recall was ever fixed.
Newsnet5, an ABC news outlet in Cleveland, recently conducted an investigation into recalled cars being sold at various lots in Northeast Ohio and quickly found that serious safety issues are attached to many of them.
Unlike new cars that are recalled, which cannot be sold until a recall is fixed, no such law exists for used cars, and it is often difficult for a potential buyer to easily know about a used vehicle's recall history.
It is key to note that a dealer doesn't have to fix the recall problem before listing a used vehicle for sale, and that the onus is on the potential buyer to find and remedy it.
"It's your money," says one local lot's service manager. "You're the one who is going to go through the one month of getting it bought back or getting the recall done."
Reporters brought a Certified Master Mechanic with them to visit used car lots, who noted that, "We constantly see vehicles that are unsafe on the road." He identified four Ford Expedition trucks for sale on one lot that were recalled in 2005 for a fire hazard issue. Three of the vehicles were still not fixed.
Investigators point out that there are several ways to find relevant recall information, starting with the free Carfax report that many dealers provide as a marketing tool. If a vehicle was ever recalled, the report will show that (although a salesman does not have to mention it). Recall history can also be routinely traced through a vehicle's VIN number.
Carfax also offers a recall report for purchase, which a reputable dealer will sometimes pay for. Dealerships will sometimes also inspect a car for free when a potential buyer raises a recall issue.
Related Resource: ABC, "Used car lots selling recalled cars and there's nothing illegal about it" June 30, 2011