Ignorance and Inattention to Recall Notices Results in Fatalities

It seems that what is right and what is wrong is all mixed up when it comes to automobile safety and manufacturer recalls. A clear picture of this problem can be seen by looking at the facts of just one recent death of a Honda Accord owner who died when he was impaled by metal shards released into his neck after a minor accident. The faulty airbag inflated, but it exploded, causing the fatality in Houston, Texas.

Death Trap or Good Deal?

Buying a used car is as important a decision as buying a new one when it comes to safety. Cars that have been recalled can become a death trap if the defect goes unrepaired. The consumer apparently trusts that their used car dealer only offers safe used vehicles but, in reality, that independent dealer is under no mandate to inspect, repair or warranty that a used automobile does not have an outstanding recall.

Millions of vehicles change hands during their lifetime, and in many cases, buyers of the used vehicles are in the dark about recall information. Dealers and manufacturers have no simple way of tracking possession of
a vehicle that has been issued a recall.

Who is Responsible?

Determining responsibility for inattention to recall repairs is disputed by many, including independent vehicle dealers. There are some economic issues involved, such as competition between those dealers and the new car dealers where these recall repairs must be made. The used car dealers are not under any mandate to inform buyers about a vehicle’s accident history, and they claim that responsibility lies with the buyer. Many buyers just do not bother to do the check or know how to research a vehicle history, but just trust the dealer.

In the case detailed by Bloomberg news, Carlos Solis IV purchased a used Honda Accord from an independent dealer in Texas in April, 2014. The car had been involved in two crashes previously, and the air bag that had been recalled years earlier was never brought in for a free repair. The manufacturer, Honda Motor Company, had never reached out to Mr. Solis, despite ongoing attempts to locate current owners of their cars under recall notices.

Sellers of used vehicles may claim they did not know about any recall, mostly because they do not do the research needed. Buyers may not even be knowledgeable enough about defective parts and the risks of relying upon an unfixed recalled part to know they should find out this important fact before purchasing a used vehicle.

Vehicle History Reports

Carfax, Inc., estimates that about 46 million unrepaired cars that have been issued recall notices were on the road at the end of last year, with approximately 5 million of those changing ownership in that same year. Carfax tracks vehicle sales and accident history, and it is an excellent resource for anyone purchasing a used vehicle. There is a fee for a full Carfax vehicle history report, but in view of the potential dangers of an unfixed defective part that could cause injury or death, the ultimate price may indeed be small and well worth the cost. Additionally, recall information is available online from Carfax for free.

Free Repairs Available for Recalls

In the U.S., once the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration notifies a manufacturer that a particular vehicle is defective in some way, that automaker issues the recall notices and offers a free fix only at their affiliate dealerships. Unfortunately, used cars that need these important repairs can be bought and sold legally, pass safety inspections, be titled or retitled after a recall has been issued.

Honda issued the original recalls, but less than 50% of those affected cars were brought in for repairs. A second recall only resulted in about 6% more response. Unfortunately for Mr. Solis, the car he purchased was never repaired. His death from the airbag incident was the fourth reported in that year, but it was followed by two more incidents that also resulted in deaths due to exploding airbags releasing shrapnel-like metal bits into the driver or passengers. Another 64 persons have also been injured by this problem.

A Sizeable Problem

Since 2008, over 20 million vehicles have been recalled because there are defects in air bags made by Takata Corporation, a Tokyo manufacturer. A consumer protection organization based in Sacramento, California, called Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety, believes dealers should be required by law to get any recall repairs completed prior to reselling vehicles.

Congress has been slow about changing requirements to allow repairs by used vehicle dealers or rental agencies; they also are considering having the Federal Trade Commission to exercise stricter oversight of dealership sales practices. The legal issue concerns the common law duty of sellers to meet standards of ordinary care that ensure the safety of consumers they serve.

What to Do

Consumers can look online at the Carfax website to see a free listing of recalls. They also can call the authorized dealer for their model vehicle, and NHTSA offers free recall checks at www.safercar.gov.