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A dealer in Oklahoma sold a used Dodge Durango SUV. While the buyer was driving with her son, the lights, wipers and locks went haywire. “I felt like I was in a twilight zone. The plastic that covers the speedometer had popped, and smoke started billowing into the vehicle,” said the buyer. She managed to pull over and get her son out as the car caught fire. “We were told it was safe and it would be a safe vehicle for our family,” she said. It was not. The Durango had been recalled for an electrical defect and it was never repaired.

The buyer of a used Lexus ES 350 was permanently disabled when he hit a tractor trailer as the car went out of control on the highway. The car had been recalled for an unsecured floor mat, but even though the repair was simple, it was not done before the sale.

Unfortunately, these are not isolated incidents. The internet vehicle history website Carfax recently completed a study which shows that in 2012 over 2 million unrepaired recalled vehicles were offered for sale online. Since all sales are not advertised online, and since the study only includes the websites Carfax reviewed, the actual number is most likely much higher.

Federal law prohibits car dealers from selling or leasing new cars that are subject to a manufacturer’s recall, but there is no law to protect used car buyers. The powerful automobile dealer lobby has blocked attempts in Congress to protect used car buyers from unsafe, defective recalled cars sold by dealers. Legislation is scheduled to be reintroduced in Congress soon which would prevent used car dealers and all rental car companies from renting recalled vehicles before repairs are made. The law would also apply to the loaner and rental cars offered by new car dealers. The bill, known as the Raechel and Jacqueline Houck Safe Rental Car Act, is named for sisters who were killed when their rental car caught fire. The defect was the subject of a recall, but the car had not been repaired. The bill was originally introduced in 2011, and was introduced again in 2012, but it was never passed. The bill does not apply to the sale of recalled used cars.

The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) has recommended that Congress address this issue. According to GAO, “Many consumers may be unknowingly putting their lives at risk by purchasing a defective vehicle.” Car dealers are not even required to report crashes involving recalled vehicles they sell to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), and NHTSA does not have the authority to notify used car buyers of a recall.

What can you do to protect yourself if you are buying a used car? You can check for open recalls on the car you are considering before you buy it. The government website for vehicle safety information is The easiest resource is probably the free recall check offered by Carfax at

If you are the original owner of a vehicle and receive a recall notice from the manufacturer you should not ignore it. If you have sold your car on your own and receive a recall notice, make sure you give it to the buyer and notify the manufacturer your car was sold. A form to do this will be provided with the recall notice. If you have purchased a used vehicle without doing a recall check, do it now. Your life may depend on it.

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