It's a lot easier to buy a car with an open recall than you'd think, report says

Consumer Reports shows that dealers may not always inform you as a customer of needed repairs and open safety recalls, even serious ones.

Kyle Hyatt Former news and features editor
Kyle Hyatt (he/him/his) hails originally from the Pacific Northwest, but has long called Los Angeles home. He's had a lifelong obsession with cars and motorcycles (both old and new).
Kyle Hyatt
2 min read
2006 Ford Ranger
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2006 Ford Ranger

Only a couple of the dealers selling Ford Rangers with open recalls mentioned them to CR's secret shoppers.


The Takata airbag recall has been going on for years now, and it seems like every few months we hear about another death, where someone in an older car was driving it around with an unrepaired airbag.

It's easy for us to deride drivers who haven't followed up on recalls for being lazy or negligent, but in fact they may not know there's a problem. See, there is no law requiring a car dealer to perform recall repairs on a used vehicle before it sells it to a customer.

We'll take a moment to let that sink in because it's pretty shocking.

So, we know that happens -- dealers sell used cars without doing the recall repairs -- but just how common is it? Is this one of those things where your odds of buying an affected and unrepaired vehicle are superslim? Consumer Reports decided to find out.

In a story published on Tuesday, CR says it sent out a group of secret shoppers to buy recalled cars, specifically 2000-2002 Honda Civics and Accords and 2006 Ford Rangers . They used Autotrader and Cars.com to search for those vehicles and in total came up with 826 examples. Of those 826 cars, 102 of them had open Takata recalls and 119 of them had open recalls of some kind.

When Consumer Reports' secret shoppers made contact with the dealerships and expressed interest in buying the vehicles listed, only four of the dealers selling the Fords mentioned the recalls; most didn't. Even worse, none of the Honda sellers mentioned it at all.

What does this mean for you, the consumer? It means you need to educate yourself on what exactly it is that you're buying. There are a number of free tools available online that will allow you to search for your potential new car's vehicle identification number (VIN) and show any open recalls.

If you find that the vehicle you have in mind has an open recall, it's not necessarily a deal-breaker because by law the vehicle owner, including used car dealers, can get the problem fixed for free. So make sure either the person or entity selling the car gets it fixed, or make an appointment yourself to have the car fixed immediately, and don't drive it until it's been repaired.

Photos: 2007 Honda Civic Hybrid

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