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Used Car Dealers Allowed to Sell ‘Deathtrap’ Cars Under Current NY Laws

It seems as though every time we turn on the news, we’re met with another story about an auto recall. Some of the most infamous include GM’s faulty ignition devices, responsible for the deaths of at least 169 Americans, and the defective airbags manufactured by Takata, which killed 14 and injured over 180 Americans. In 2016 alone, 53.2 million cars were recalled.

It is illegal to sell new cars if they have not been repaired after a recall. However, there is no federal regulation that specifically prohibits used car dealers from selling recalled vehicles as “safe”— even if they have not been repaired.

In New York, it was recently uncovered that used car dealerships were selling cars that had been recalled without notifying the customers purchasing them. A recent investigation by the office of NY Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman found that 104 auto dealerships sold used cars with serious safety defects. These defects included airbag problems, steering and brake loss, and even vehicle fires. The consumers purchasing the vehicles had no idea.

Due to the settlement Schneiderman reached, the dealerships must each pay a $1,000 fine. They must also let customers know about unrepaired recalls in the following ways:

  • Online advertisements for vehicles must include information that allows consumers to check the vehicles’ recall status.
  • Print and other media advertisements must include information about whether the vehicle is subject to a safety recall.
  • Used cars must have a decal notice that includes information that allows consumers to check the recall status of the vehicle.
  • Dealers must provide the buyer with a copy of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recall status report for a vehicle with an unrepaired safety recall and obtain a written acknowledgment from the consumer two days before the purchase.

“Consumers deserve to know of any unresolved safety issues before buying a car for themselves or their family,” said Schneiderman. “This is an important first step towards making all cars on New York’s roads safer.”

While these new requirements would appear to help consumers be more informed when purchasing a used car, many car safety advocates claim the measures could do more harm than good.

Attorney Cally Houck, the mother of two young women who were killed by an unrepaired, recalled Chrysler PT Cruiser, noted, “All that does is make it easier for manufacturers of defective cars and unscrupulous car dealers to shift the legal liability onto innocent victims.” Houck worked alongside car safety advocacy group CARS (Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety) to get President Obama to sign an unprecedented federal law prohibiting rental car companies that own fleets of 35 or more vehicles from renting, selling, or loaning cars with pending safety recalls until they have been repaired.

Rosemary Shahan, president of CARS, has also been a vocal critic of Schneiderman’s settlement. She believes it allows dealers to sell “deathtrap” cars in New York: “Car dealers should not be allowed to play ‘recalled used car roulette’ with people’s lives.” Shahan also notes that recall information may only be presented in English— which puts all used car buyers who don’t read or speak English at risk.

Until the settlement is challenged, used car buyers in New York should take extra precaution in researching safety recalls before making a purchase.

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