Used car buyers beware

Wednesday, May 10, 2017


Used car buyers who don’t read the fine print could purchase a car with a serious safety defect that has not been repaired.

While by law, new cars can’t be sold without first repairing safety problems, this is not the case for used cars.

In New York state, however, a recent enforcement action requires some used car dealers to notify buyers of the specific defect under recall before sale. The New York Attorney General’s office has begun settling cases with some of the state’s used car dealers requiring them to disclose to buyers any open safety recalls on record with the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (NHTSA).

  • Online or print ads for specific cars have to include a web link to the NHTSA website that must include the car’s vehicle identification number—or VIN—so that recall information for the specific car automatically pops up
  • On the lot: Stickers must appear on windows of cars with open recall notices informing buyers how they can access a mobile app from NHTSA to find recall information using the car’s VIN (usually located in the lower left corner of the windshield)
  • Before the sale: Buyers must receive a paper copy of any NHTSA recall notices pertaining to the specific unrepaired safety defects for that car

Consumers who bought a used car in New York as far back as January 2016 will receive a notice by mail of any open safety recalls. Franchised car dealers (who contract with manufacturers like GM, Toyota, Honda etc. to sell used cars) are required to repair the defects (at no charge) before sale, not just disclose them.

Outside of New York, the disclosures and requirements are not as consumer friendly. Potential buyers should see a notice in ads or car lots warning that used cars “may be subject to recalls for safety issues that have not been repaired.” This recent Federal Trade Commission (FTC) requirement does not force sellers to complete recall repairs prior to sale.

Make sure you check the VIN with before you make a used-car purchase and negotiate with the seller to have the repair done first. If you decide to buy a car with an unrepaired safety problem, take the car to an authorized dealer to have the free repair done as soon as possible. (You don’t have to pay for a recall repair—it is the car manufacturer’s responsibility.)

Consumer Action believes that just disclosing the need to check for safety recalls is not enough to protect used car buyers. The seller should be required to make the repair before the car is offered for sale.

Visit to check for open safety recall notices to be sure you’re not buying a dangerous lemon. In fact, run all cars you own through the system periodically to ensure you didn’t miss a recall notice.




autos, used cars, safety recalls, nhtsa


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