Anyone who has bought a used car knows it can be an exciting process. But what happens if later, the buyer realizes that the car had previous recalls that went unfixed by the seller? The answer might be quite a surprise to many consumers.
In the United States, dealers and sellers of new cars must let buyers know about any outstanding recalls. The same does not hold true for used car sellers. This means that anyone who buys a used car could be out of luck when it comes to knowing if their vehicle is safe. Even if the used car seller knows about the recall, the seller is under no obligation to reveal the information. One study of used car sales found that around a third of all used cars sold had been recalled but not repaired.
To be sure, not all recalls could lead to immediate danger for drivers. Some car recalls have easy fixes. Yet others can render vehicles undriveable until repairs and upgrades have been made. Consequently, a driver of a used car who does not know anything about potential problems could get into a car accident because of an unknown manufacturing defect and subsequent recall. In other words, the pressure is on the buyer, not the seller, to conduct due diligence and understand how recalls work.
What is a Recall?
A recall is the temporary “recalling” of the vehicle for repairs. A recall could happen for any number of reasons, such as a defective part or, in the modern era of tech-heavy cars, malfunctioning software. A recall typically begins in one of two ways: Consumers spot the issue, or the vehicle maker discovers the issue.
As an example, a consumer might notice a safety problem with a vehicle. The consumer could then go to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) website to file a vehicle safety complaint. If the issue is not a safety problem but is still a problem, the consumer would go directly to the car manufacturer instead of the NHTSA, which has oversight only for potential safety malfunctions.
If car manufacturers discover a problem with a vehicle model after they have sent the model to dealerships for sale, they can recall the affected vehicles. It is essential to note that the recall process does not always happen quickly. Unfortunately, that means that unsafe vehicles could be on the road at any given time. Some estimates suggest that approximately one out of every six vehicles on the roads has an unaddressed recall.
Have Many Vehicles Been Recalled over the Years?
With so many people and companies aware of the value of having safer vehicles on the road, the number of recalls has grown since the initial recalls of the mid-1960s. In the first half of 2021 alone, nearly 10 million cars have gone through the recall process, which shows how diligent people and companies have become about keeping highways and consumers safer.
How Would I Know if a Car Had Been Recalled?
Although recall notices are easy to find online, most consumers do not spend their days and nights researching whether their vehicles have been recalled. Instead, they wait. Why? During a recall, all owners of all vehicles affected by the recall are sent notifications through regular post office mail. The recall notice explains exactly why the recall is necessary and alerts the drivers to their rights.
Drivers can then take the recalled vehicle to an authorized service station or dealership for a repair. Under most circumstances, repairs are free. The exceptions to that rule usually come when cars are older models, or defective tires are more than five years old. Even then, some repair shops will still offer to perform free recall upgrades, repairs, and replacements. Regardless of who pays, any safety defects should be repaired immediately to lower the risk of a breakdown or accident.
Do Recalled Cars Have to Be Repaired?
Car owners who receive recall notices can choose to repair their vehicles or not. However, it is always a good choice to opt for making repairs. What sounds like a minor issue on a recall notice could end up costing more later, or even leading to an accident. Plus, some recalls are very serious. Consider the Takata airbag recall, for instance.
Takata airbags were installed on a number of vehicles over the past two decades. However, Takata airbag deployments failed at high rates, causing at least 19 Americans to lose their lives. Multiple other accident victims were injured when their Takata airbags did not perform to acceptable standards.
To date, deaths related to unresolved Takata airbag problems are still being recorded because some affected vehicles were never repaired. This makes it easy to see how important it can be to take care of any recalls right away for owners.
Are All Cars for Sale with Recalls Fixed before Selling?
Used cars that are recalled and being exchanged on the private market need to be fixed before the sale. It does not matter if the seller is the large dealership down the street or a neighbor trying to sell an older vehicle. Wise, ethical dealerships tend to correct any recalls to maintain their reputations.
The seller has no obligation to say anything about the recall status of the used car. Even if the seller knows the car has been recalled, the seller can proceed without making any repairs.
Are Recalls on Used Cars Common?
This does not mean that all used cars have been recalled but never fixed. Nevertheless, around a fifth of all recalled vehicles never get checked out or addressed. Therefore, used car buyers need to take it on themselves to be proactive and ask questions. It is better to lose the opportunity to buy a vehicle than purchase one with a major flaw, especially a flaw that could put a driver in danger.
Consumers who have bought a used car and then gotten into a serious car accident because of a neglected recall may want to contact a lawyer. In some cases, car accident lawyers have helped buyers recover money that they did not realize they were entitled to receive.
Ways for Consumers Buying Used Cars to Protect Themselves
Knowing the realities and risks associated with buying used cars, consumers need to get the vehicle identification number (VIN) of the used vehicle. They can then use the VIN to find out if the car has gone through the recall process. Sellers who will not give interested buyers a used car’s VIN may be hiding something. In that case, the prospective buyer might be wiser to look for a different car.
If a prospective buyer discovers that a used car has a recall, the buyer can decide how to proceed. For example, the buyer might ask the seller to get the recall taken care of as a condition of buying the car. Since recall repairs are free, the seller should be willing to do it to make the sale. Or the buyer may purchase the car and then immediately take it in for repairs at the nearest authorized dealership or automotive repair shop.
What about Consumer Protection Laws?
With all the concern about protecting consumer rights, it can be surprising to hear that car buyers have limited protections when they purchase used vehicles. However, proposed legislation called the Used Car Safety Recall Repair Act has been proposed to fill this glaring gap.
The legislation would mandate the disclosure of recalls on all used cars. That way, buyers would not have to do all the research themselves to figure out if their vehicle has serious issues such as seat belts that do not work properly. If passed, the Used Car Safety Recall Repair Act would also extend to car leasing as well as the loaning of vehicles.
What Happens if I am in an Accident Because of an Unrepaired Recall?
Currently, used car sellers do not have to protect their buyers by fixing recalls. Nonetheless, used car buyers who get into any kind of accident that they later find out was caused by an unattended recall may have legal options.
Speaking in confidence with a car accident lawyer may help highlight ways to recover extra damages. Sometimes, class action lawsuits have been filed against manufacturers based on the extent of their vehicles’ defects. Therefore, consumers may be able to join or initiate those types of lawsuits to compel car makers to live up to their expectation of producing safe, reliable products.
Delaware Car Accident Lawyers at McCann Dillon Jaffe & Lamb, LLCHelp Clients Who Were Injured from Unfixed Recalls
Getting damages after a car accident because of a vehicle recall can be frustrating and stressful. If you or a loved one was hurt because of a malfunction in a used car you purchased, contact the Delaware car accident lawyers at McCann Dillon Jaffe & Lamb, LLC. We will fight hard to secure the compensation for which you are entitled. Call us today at 302-888-1221 or contact us online. Located in Wilmington, Delaware, we serve clients in Dover, Newark, and Middletown.