Tips for Finding a Reliable Used Car in the Age of Massive Recalls

Vehicle recalls have been plaguing consumers over the past two years. In 2013, there were 22 million vehicles recalled.  Consider that GM has issued another recall just this week.Though many vehicle owners follow the instructions on the recall notice and take care of the problem with the vehicle, some owners ignore the recall notice, never get the issue resolved, and trade in the vehicle or sell it to an individual buyer. We recently heard a news story that suggested that many of these recalled cars are finding their way to Craigslist and consumers are none the wiser.

Carfax, known primarily for providing historical vehicle data by vehicle identification number to consumers and dealers, conducted a study specific to used cars for sale online. Their findings, showing 2.1 million cars with open recalls for sale, are alarming to say the least. Topping the list of states with recalled vehicles for sale are, California, Florida, and Texas, where these defective and potentially dangerous vehicles are on the market for resale.  Even more alarming is that some of these vehicles are on dealer lots.

Dealers are not mandated to check for the existence of a recall notice. Further, they don’t have to notify potential buyers of the needed repairs. Representing 20,000 nationwide dealers, The National Independent Automobile Dealers Association’s stance is that it, “Encourages used vehicle dealers to repair the open-recall before selling the vehicle to a customer and at a minimum disclose it.”  A separate organization representing another 16,000 dealers thinks that the onus should be on used car buyers to get the repairs taken care of. Remember, these recalls occur because an inherent hazard has been identified and drivers are in potential danger if the repairs are not handled.   So, what can buyers do to protect themselves?

Four Steps to Making the Best Possible Used-Car Purchase

  1. Ask Yourself Several Questions – What is my budget? What type of car do I want and can I afford the maintenance on that vehicle? Do I want to purchase from a dealer or a private seller? Answering these questions up front will lead you to right vehicle for you.
  2. Don’t Limit Yourself – Take the time to shop around. Visit multiple dealers – or private sellers if that is the route you have chosen.
  3. Check the Vehicle Thoroughly – Look under the hood. Check for signs of water damage. Check the tires. If you aren’t savvy when it comes to vehicle inspection, bring someone with you who knows about cars. Or, ask a mechanic to accompany you. While test-driving listen to the car, check the handling, and be certain to check for any dashboard lights.
  4. Research the Vehicle – There are several companies that provide vehicle history and recall information including Carfax,, and

Outside of saving you money in the long-run, taking these steps will lessen your chances of purchasing a vehicle that has unaddressed recall issues. Rosemary Shahan of Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety put it best when she said, “There’s only one reason the car is under safety recall and that’s because it’s unsafe.” Do your homework and protect yourself. You could be saving your life or the life of a loved one by taking extra precautions when purchasing a used vehicle.


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