Are Recalled Vehicles Safe to Drive?

Are Recalled Vehicles Safe to Drive?

Used car retailer CarMax recently got in hot water with automotive safety advocacy groups after the company settled a lawsuit with 36 states for just $1 million. The retailer was initially sued by the attorneys general of these states on allegations that it informed consumers that recalled vehicles with unrepaired safety defects were “safe.” 

CarMax allegedly has a “125-point inspection” through which it puts all vehicles before selling them. However, this inspection apparently does not include identifying and repairing manufacturing defects for which manufacturers have issued recalls. Groups such as the Center for Auto Safety, Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety (CARS), and The Safety Institute have argued that the states’ acceptance of just $1 million in fines to be divided 36 ways is “paltry” and “pathetic,” particularly since none of that money will be going to consumers who bought vehicles that were falsely claimed to be safe. 

This highlights the risks involved in buying used cars. When even retailers with as much name recognition as CarMax blatantly sell vehicles with unrepaired manufacturing defects claiming they are safe, it becomes rightfully difficult to trust other used dealerships. 

It also brings up the concerns many owners have about driving vehicles that have been recalled. Manufacturers typically only issue recalls for defects that put drivers at risk. Defects that do not affect safety are addressed by issuing Technical Service Bulletins (TSBs) to dealer mechanics without notifying consumers. If you have bought a used vehicle that’s been recalled, you are justified in being concerned about whether it’s safe to drive. 

The Risks of Recalled but Unrepaired Vehicles

A recall is a notice by a manufacturer to car owners that their vehicles may be affected by a known manufacturing defect. It is also a promise by the manufacturer to repair that defect at no cost if there is a known fix available. However, recalled vehicles may go unrepaired despite this guarantee for several reasons:

  • The cause of the issue is unknown, so no fix is available, such as with Ford Broncos’ engine failures.
  • The recall notice never made it to the owner due to out-of-date mailing addresses or car registration.
  • The owner chose not to get the vehicle repaired. 
  • The owner bought the vehicle after a recall was issued that the dealership never took time to have fixed. 

The last is what happens with used cars that are resold unrepaired. Under current federal law, dealerships are barred from selling new vehicles with unrepaired manufacturing defects that are subject to recalls. However, there is no such prohibition on selling unrepaired used vehicles. When dealerships like CarMax sell cars claiming they’re “safe” but don’t take the time to get free repairs done by the manufacturer, they put drivers at serious risk. 

Drivers can also be at risk if the dealership claims to have repaired the issue and the repair fails. Used car dealerships that do take the time to have recall defects repaired rarely go the extra mile to test the vehicle and confirm that the issue is fixed. This could leave owners stuck with an unsafe used car even if they bought it from somewhere that claims it performs all possible safety checks. 

How to Determine If a Car Is Safe

The last thing you want is to get saddled with a lemon when investing in a used car. The best way to avoid this is by doing your own research instead of trusting the dealer. Before buying any used car from even the most reputable dealership, make sure to do the following:

  • Look up the VIN: Serious damage and recalls should appear on the VIN report. Run the car’s VIN to see if there are any active recalls in place, whether there are any severe collisions in its history, and more. 
  • Get CarFax reports: CarFax and other vehicle history services will show you the car’s maintenance record, including any repairs for recall issues. If the vehicle has an open recall and you don’t see a repair in its history, the car may not actually be safe. 
  • Get an independent pre-purchase inspection: Even if a recall issue has been fixed once, that doesn’t mean it’s safe forever. Take the vehicle to an independent mechanic and perform a pre-purchase inspection to double-check that it is safe to drive. 
  • Research warranties: The best inspection can still miss things. Find out whether the car is still under manufacturer warranty or whether the dealership offers a used car warranty. In California, as long as your vehicle is under warranty, you can get safety and manufacturing defects repaired at no cost. If those repairs do not work, you can pursue a lemon claim to get a full refund for the amount you spent on the car. 

Getting Your Used Vehicle Repaired

Warranties are crucial to getting any vehicle repaired for manufacturing flaws, whether the car is used or new. If your vehicle is under warranty, the issuer is responsible for repairs for covered defects at no cost to you. In California, all new cars must be covered under warranty for at least three years, but the same is not true for used vehicles. 

Before buying a used car, research whether it will come with any warranties. If not, think twice – it may be a sign that the dealer doesn’t trust the quality of what it sells. 

If you have already bought a used car with a warranty, you may be able to file a lemon claim against the manufacturer or dealership. Learn more about whether you’re eligible for a lemon claim using our convenient online form or by reaching out to our experienced lemon law attorneys today. 

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.

Lemon Trouble?​

See if you qualify!