That Used Car You're Eyeing May Already Be Recalled

CarMax and Other Used Car Dealers Do Not Repair Cars under Recall

That Used Car You're Eyeing May Already Be Recalled
October 5, 2015

Most people are vigilant about having their cars fixed by dealers when recalls are issued. New cars affected by recalls are fixed by the dealerships that display them on their lots. Did you ever wonder how used-car dealers repair cars under recall? The surprising answer: they don't.

This issue was brought to light by a report from watchdog groups in California. The California Public Interest Research Group (CALPIRG) Education Fund and the Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety (CARS) Foundation reviewed CarMax facilities in Sacramento and Oxnard and found multiple cars for sale under recall.

According to the CALPIRG/CARS report, in Sacramento, almost 9% of the available cars on the CarMax lot (34 out of 386) were affected by recalls that had not been repaired. The situation was even worse at Oxnard, where over 10% of the available cars were subject to a recall (46 out of 455). Seven Oxnard vehicles were affected by multiple recalls.

Legally, CarMax is not under any obligation to fix the cars under recall, nor are other used-car dealers or rental companies. Regulations require new car dealers to take care of their unsold vehicles as a protection to the public, but used cars slip through a loophole, as they are no longer under the control of a franchised dealership.

Any of the used car dealers and rental companies could have their cars repaired under recall, and it is possible that some of them do. Consumers will have to ask. CarMax does not claim to make recall repairs and, in a press release, recommends, "having recalls repaired at a manufacturer-authorized facility."

How can you protect yourself? The easiest way is to do an online recall search for any used car you are interested in buying. The National Highway Traffic Administration maintains an auto recall search site that includes data back to 1966. You can search by make, year, and model to find relevant recalls or search by vehicle identification number (VIN) to check for specific repairs or complaints on that vehicle. CarFax has a similar recall search page on their website.

The presence of a recall does not necessarily mean the car is dangerous. You have no way of knowing if a previous owner had the recall work done prior to trading in the car, unless the service records are intact, and that is not always the case with used cars. The best way is to have the car checked out by a mechanic you trust — always a good idea with any used car purchase — and pass along your knowledge of the recall in advance so the mechanic can research it prior to inspection.

Make sure to have an inspection, but remember that it may not always be obvious whether repairs have been made. You have to decide whether you want to deal with the recall yourself if it comes to that. Check with the nearby manufacturer's dealer to see if the recall repair is still valid, and confirm that they will do the work. Do not expect them to be cheery about it, since you are contemplating buying a car somewhere else and taking it to them for free repairs.

In the end, if you are not comfortable that recall repairs have been made and are not willing to have them done yourself after the purchase, do not buy the car. You cannot get any safer than that.

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Erin | 10.05.15 @ 16:01
It seems like it would be illegal for a dealership to knowingly sell a car that is under recall. This is something I hadn't thought about when buying used. Thanks for the heads up!
Kamie | 10.05.15 @ 16:02
There has been a lot of cars recalled for something that I think could have been spotted in the process of building a car. Maybe companies need to spend a little more time with the quality control on vehicles rather than being the fastest in getting the newest car out.
Nancy | 10.05.15 @ 16:03
The used car dealers should be required to notify the buyer off a pending recall at the very least.
Sara | 10.05.15 @ 16:05
You know I am very wary of where I go for my vehicles. However, I always check the carfax and everything else.
Angie | 10.05.15 @ 16:08
The car we just bought this year from a used dealership had a recall issue - we were just told to take it to a certified shop and it would be taken care of at no cost. We bought the car anyway since it was a free fix and a small fix, but it did kind of surprise me.
Kate | 10.05.15 @ 16:09
There should be a law that prevents this. It's not safe for consumers. I will make sure to double check every time I purchase a used car.
Steffanie | 10.05.15 @ 16:13
That seems really shadey of them
Chrisitna | 10.05.15 @ 16:14
It would seem like this would be something they should have to disclose.
Alec | 10.05.15 @ 16:16
I remember hearing about this on the news after a van crashed that a couple had bought that day or week or something. It's scary that places will cut corners to avoid paperwork or expense. Used car dealerships should be required to at least label recalled cars or tell the buyer.
Meredith L | 10.05.15 @ 16:18
I understand the value of these car shopping sites but it's also very important to do some good old fashioned research before buying a vehicle - after all, it's probably the second biggest investment you make beyond your home.
Elaine | 10.05.15 @ 16:25
Thanks for the info. Never thought a dealer would sell a recalled vehicle. Have to always remember to do my research and trust no one.
Kathryn | 10.05.15 @ 16:25
I feel like it should be illegal to sell recalled vehicles..
Daniel | 10.05.15 @ 16:30
Dealers should be legally responsible to ensure cars on their lots are not under a recall .. or at bare minimum be required to disclose such information.
Kelley | 10.05.15 @ 16:32
Used car dealerships are always shady, so this doesn't surprise me. They won't fix anything if they don't have to.
Zanna | 10.05.15 @ 16:41
I don't know why I never thought about this. It certainly seems like it would come under the lemon laws at least, if a used-car dealership knowingly sells a car under recall.
Bobbie | 10.05.15 @ 16:45
I think this is buyer beware. With all of the information available it is not hard to find out of there is an active recall on any vehicle. I have bought several used vehicles, and this is something that I always check on before making a purchase. I do not expect a used car lot to do any recall repairs, as that has always been something that is taken care of through a new car dealership.
Vanessa | 10.05.15 @ 16:46
I have only bought one car from a used car lot. I only did that because I have a good friend that has bought many cars there and have had good luck. I never thought about the recall issue though. That is something I will have to research and keep in mind if i ever buy from a used car dealer again!
Chelsey | 10.05.15 @ 16:53
I think that is pretty ridiculous. They should at least have to tell the person buying the vehicle that the car is under recall and needs to be fixed. Buyer beware. Not sure how that is exactly legal.
Jonathan | 10.05.15 @ 17:02
This is a very common occurrence. Get the vin# and check thru carfax before you purchase a car.
Heather | 10.05.15 @ 17:15
I can't believe how many cars have been recalled lately. How can you trust a dealership that would sell a car with a recall on it?
Jennifer Sears | 10.05.15 @ 17:16
That shouldn't be legal.
Courtney | 10.05.15 @ 17:17
If a car is being recalled, then the dealership should not be selling it. There is not reason they should be sellingt.
Sarah | 10.05.15 @ 17:23
I have very little to say on this matter that can be put into a public forum. I am married to an automotive tech... (mechanic for those who use the dirty term). It's a hot mess... the whole lot of it.
Britt | 10.05.15 @ 17:24
I have always said from the get-go that if and when I am ready to buy a car, It will be brand new.
Jo Ann | 10.05.15 @ 17:35
Boy I am glad I read your article. I always buy used cars and assumed that any recalls would have been made up to purchase. I will definitely use this advice and check from now on.
Carla | 10.05.15 @ 17:41
This just shows it pays to do your research when buying a car, new or used.
gracie | 10.05.15 @ 17:47
I am not sure how this practice remains legal?
trish | 10.05.15 @ 17:54
Wow. Great information. I never would have thought to check that out before going there
Rychana | 10.05.15 @ 17:58
I wouldn't have thought about recalls on used cars. Great article.
Tina | 10.05.15 @ 18:03
This has never crossed my mind and I always buy used. Thanks for pointing it out!
Amanda | 10.05.15 @ 18:05
Shocking... And great information to know.
Christina | 10.05.15 @ 18:08
All car dealer should tell if a car is under recall.
$commenter.renderDisplayableName() | 11.25.20 @ 08:37