In the Market for a Used Car? Buyer Beware

Posted on January 28, 2017

If you listen to the advertisements, a used car is practically like a new one, just cheaper.


We all know that can’t be true.

Some used cars are the subject of recall notices, but if you are on a used car lot, do not assume that a certified used car has had all of the recall items fixed.   

In December, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which regulates advertising, issued a decision that essentially allows big used-car chains and General Motors to lie to the public when it comes to used automobiles.

They can tell consumers the used car has been safety inspected and repaired, offering assurances that the consumer is buying a quality car, even if there are outstanding recall items that have not been fixed. 

The burden falls on the consumer to look up online using their VIN# to see if the vehicle is facing any safety recalls.  See the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration database here.

The used car dealer chains affected are CarMax, Asbury Automotive Group and the West-Herr Automotive Group. 

The New York Times reports the dealers are only required to advise buyers that recall notices might be outstanding and how to find out if your car has a recall notice.  The dealers themselves do not have to make the repairs.

This might not be so problematic if we hadn’t heard about recent cases where automakers hid crucial safety information from car owners.

Can you say General Motors, in its failure to let consumers know about a deadly ignition switch?  How about Volkswagen and how it misled about pollution controls? Honda is on the list of automobile bad boys as well with its failure to let anyone know about safety problems for more than ten years.

Exploding airbags are responsible for 11 deaths, 180 injuries, and 42 million recalled affected vehicles, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

Delia Robles of Riverside, California was on an errand when she got into a fender bender last September in her 2001 Honda Civic. It had recently been purchased by her son for $2,100 and had been sold three times before at auto auctions.

He didn’t know it had a defective airbag. The collision didn’t kill Ms. Robles, 50, but the metal parts that exploded from the Honda’s faulty airbag did. 

There were more than 20 notices sent out by Honda on that particular model warnings its driver-airbag could explode. It was never fixed.

Lobbyists for the used-car industry have been successful in weakening any effort in Congress to toughen laws for used cars, which amounted to 38 million auto sales in the U.S. last year.

The decision is a compromise that resulted from a settlement over General Motors advertising claims. It will be in effect for 20 years.

Interestingly, the move puts two federal agencies at odds – the F.T.C. and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the nation’s automobile safety agency.

It has called for used-car dealers to fix outstanding recall items before selling a vehicle.

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