When used cars subject to recall are sold without repairs, drivers pay the price

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CHICAGO — Buying a used car can be tricky enough for prospective buyers, but now one consumer watchdog group says recalls are getting ignored and repairs are not being made by some dealers, leaving customers to pay the price.

In a new report, the Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) finds more than 10 percent of vehicles for sale at locations of AutoNation, one of the largest used car dealerships in the country, have been recalled but are not fixed.

You can read the full report here. (pdf)

The cost can be in more than just repairs. Just ask someone like 38-year-old Corey Jackson. He was hustling home from work in May 2017 in his silver 2008 Buick Lacrosse, and moved to pass slow traffic along Bluff Road in Lemont by swinging into the oncoming lane. Seeing it was a bad idea, he tried to move back, but something went wrong and he lost control.

"When I woke up, [my] car was smack dab in the tree," Jackson said.

Bleeding and confused, Jackson was still wearing his seatbelt. As he heard ambulances off in the distance, he says he was suddenly aware of something else: his airbags never deployed.

"From the impact, once I woke up conscious, I figured something here’s not right with the car,” Jackson said.

His car was totaled, inside and out. Jackson suffered a broken jaw and his right side was wrecked: broken collar bone, wrist and ankle, and a shattered right hip. Even roughly a year-and-a-half later, Jackson walks with a significant limp and is on disability today.

Jackson bought his Buick at a Chicago-area AutoNation dealer under the AutoNation umbrella. When he lost control of his car that day, his lawyers claim, it was because his ignition switch failed while he was behind the wheel. Now Jackson is suing General Motors.

“His steering failed, his air bag failed, so he wasn't ready for his car to respond as if key functions shut down while he was driving," said Abe Scarr, executive director of PIRG's education foundation in Illinois.

PIRG backs up Jackson’s claims with additional eye-opening facts about AutoNation. This summer, the group surveyed 2,400 used cars for sale at 28 AutoNation location in 12 states, including Illinois. They found about one in nine cars for sale were subject to a recall, yet the automobiles had not been fixed. In Illinois, that average is 1 in 13.

"Overall, we’re talking hundreds of vehicles for sale across the country that could be unsafe," Scarr said. "There were at least 47 cars for sale that the fix wasn’t even available.”

“Certified pre-owned” vehicles are labeled separately because they are held to a higher standard. Still, among the more than 2,400 vehicles in that category surveyed by PIRG, 14 cars had recall safety problems that had not been fixed.

AutoNation is not alone, as PIRG says this is a problem with other major used car sellers across the country. All of it was news to Jackson.

"I was dumbfounded," Jackson said. "I was stunned, man; I was lost, confused."

Jackson was badly hurt, but PIRG suggests he may be one of the lucky ones.  According to their report, others have died in incidents where the recall was never addressed in a used car bought from AutoNation.

"Sometimes people are literally driving away from the dealership and having accidents with their vehicles," Scarr said. "People are put at risk because the cars are unsafe and haven’t been fixed."

AutoNation says the PIRG report is full of errors and inaccuracies. A spokesperson there says whenever parts are available for recalled cars, a fix is made. He stands by that. The company also maintains customers are notified of any recalls before purchase.

“The suggestion that AutoNation is knowingly or deliberately seeking to mislead consumers is entirely unfounded,” the spokesperson said.

While federal law does not prohibit the sale of used cars with safety recalls that have not been addressed, PIRG is calling on the FTC to prohibit used car dealers from engaging in deceptive and unfair business practices, including false advertising.

While AutoNation’s slogan is “worry free,” is anything but, if you ask PIRG. The group says, as consumer safety risks go, this one ranks high on the list.

"If you think about how dependent many people are on cars to get to school and work, and how inherently dangerous it can be, the fact that AutoNation and other dealers are selling products they know are dangerous to the market is unconscionable," Scarr said.

Just ask Corey Jackson, who lost his health, his job, his insurance and his confidence. He says his life will never be the same after his car accident. He says he knows he’s blessed simply to be alive.

"At the end of the day I don’t want this to happen to nobody, but I do want them to be aware this is going on," Jackson said. "I wish this never happened.”

Consumers with complaints about their used cars are asked to contact the Illinois Attorney General’s office.

Full statement from AutoNation below:

The report issued by US PIRG recommends automotive retail industry policies that contradict the laws, regulations and guidance implemented by the U.S. Department of Transportation and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the agencies charged with overseeing vehicle safety and the recall process. 

In a statement made in May 2014, Anthony R. Foxx the U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary stated:

“In appropriate circumstances, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) may require a manufacturer to advise owners not to drive their vehicles until a safety-related defect or noncompliance is remedied.”

When questioned if customers with vehicles equipped with recalled Takata airbags should stop driving those cars in October 2015, Mark R. Rosekind, Administrator of NHTSA stated:

“No, but we do urge these customers to have recall remedies performed as quickly as possible, particularly for cars located in the hot and humid areas of the U.S.” NHTSA went on to say it does not believe that customers need to stop driving vehicles equipped with recalled but unrepaired Takata airbags.

In February 2019, an Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) issued a notice to customers, in accordance with the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act stating the following on a Takata airbag recall:

“Ask your dealer if they have the part needed to complete the repair in stock. If they do not, request that they order it for you.” The notice went on to say that the OEM, “has not issued instructions to stop driving your vehicle under this safety recall. Owners can continue to safely drive their vehicle if they follow all instructions and warnings contained in the recall notice.”

Accordingly, AutoNation is in full compliance with all laws and regulations regarding recalls and with all recall directives provided by the vehicle manufacturers.

Moreover, the US PIRG report does not accurately depict the buying process at AutoNation dealerships. The groups responsible for the report did not attempt to thoroughly review the purchasing process at any of AutoNation’s 200+ locations across the country. Nor did they reach out to AutoNation to obtain information about our policies and procedures surrounding recalls.

Had they done so, they would be aware of AutoNation’s robust policies and procedures that are designed to provide a transparent buying process for our customers. No new vehicle is sold with an open recall. No CPO vehicle is sold with an open recall unless permitted by the OEM. If the OEM issues a “stop sale” for certain vehicles AutoNation will not retail those vehicles at same brand stores prior to completion of the recall.

For all pre-owned vehicles, AutoNation customers are required to sign a recall disclosure acknowledgment prior to purchase. By signing the form, buyers acknowledge that prior to signing the vehicle contract the dealer provided documentation of any open recalls, and where possible the dealer gave buyers the opportunity to schedule or complete recall repairs prior to the purchase.

In addition, with over 4 million monthly visits to its websites, AutoNation provides consumers with transparency in price, products and recalls. Consumers can check for open recalls on pre-owned vehicles on all AutoNation websites. The suggestion, therefore, that AutoNation is knowingly or deliberately seeking to mislead consumers is entirely unfounded.

AutoNation continues to have an industry-leading policy in place. We address every recall. If the parts are on hand, we repair the vehicle. If there are no parts available for the foreseeable future, contingent on manufacturer instructions we either hold the vehicle or sell it with full disclosure.

J.D. Power, considered the “Amplified Voice of the Customer,” certified thirty-six AutoNation stores this year in the J.D. Power 2019 Dealer of Excellence Program, SM, the most ever by one dealer group in the history of the program. This is a rigorous certification process that includes, but is not limited to, a review of used vehicle integrity, full disclosures, and concern resolution processes. This achievement demonstrates AutoNation’s continued commitment to exceeding consumer expectations while keeping its customers and others safe on the road.

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