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Used cars being sold with unfixed recalls

File photo of used cars.
December 3, 2012 12:00:00 AM PST
A charred, burnt-out shell is all that remains of the used van Bob Knotts bought. The van burst into flames while parked right in his driveway.

It turned out that Knott's van was one of 98,000 recalled because of a wiring defect that could cause a fire. The used car dealer Knotts bought it from never told him it had an unfixed recall.

"The whole thing was a complete loss for me," Knotts said.

Could the used car you bought have a dangerous defect? A study by Carfax found more than 2.7 million used vehicles listed for sale online in 2011 had at least one unfixed safety recall. The federal government doesn't recall cars unless a defect could cause a serious risk to passengers in a car or others on the road.

"They're all serious," said Clarence Ditlow of the Center for Auto Safety. "It could cost you your life. It could cause a crash."

On a used car lot in Hawthorne recently, Eyewitness News found several cars that were for sale with unfixed recalls.

One Cadillac Escalade had three unfixed recalls, a Nissan Altima had four and a Chevrolet Silverado had 15.

"They don't want to take them off their lot to get them fixed before they sell them because that customer is ready to buy it today and may in fact go to another used car dealer and buy a different vehicle," Ditlow said.

There's no federal or California law requiring used car dealers or private sellers to tell buyers about unfixed recalls.

The National Independent Automobile Dealers Association said it "encourages used vehicle dealers to repair the open-recall before selling the vehicle to a customer ... and at a minimum disclose it."

Experts said some dealers do go the extra mile.

"Many dealers will bring a used car up to speed on its recalls before they sell it and actually if they do it's a sign they take really good care of their cars and probably really good care of their customers," said Jeannine Fallon of Edmunds.com.

A different car dealer association, the National Automobile Dealers Association, said the responsibility is on vehicle owners and used car buyers to get recalls fixed.

"To improve safety, The National Automobile Dealers Association urges vehicle owners to have recalled vehicles fixed as soon as possible," it said.

Knotts said he now wants to warn others.

"What happened to me, it could have happened to someone else," he said.

Visit recall.carfax.com or the Center for Auto Safety's website at autosafety.org for more information on vehicle recalls.

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