In a convoluted tangle of red tape and finger pointing, consumers have been left to wonder who will be footing the bill for unfixed safety recalls after buying a used vehicle from a company like CarMax. According to a recent report conducted by Automotive News, consumer advocacy groups say that used car dealerships like CarMax should be held responsible, even though it has a policy in place that strictly states that all pending recall work is disclosed during a transaction and that “the burden is on the consumer after the sale.” Things aren’t getting any better either as companies like CarMax go toe-to-toe with consumer advocacy groups, who have purposefully been buying used vehicles from the retailer in order to showcase what happens when open safety recalls are present and no one wants to take responsibility for them.
Take Sean Kane, for instance. He’s the founder of New England-based consumer safety watch group The Safety Institute, which paid almost $30K for a 2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee from CarMax’s store in North Attleboro, Massachusetts on November 30. While both Kane and CarMax agreed that it was disclosed that the Grand Cherokee had several safety recalls on its docket, Kane claims that he was only told about the recalls after inquiring about them, and that the salesperson downplayed the seriousness of said issues. In response, CarMax alleged that Kane knew full-well that there were unsettled recalls with the Jeep prior to stepping onto the lot, yet he purchased the vehicle anyways, even when he had “the opportunity to walk away or return the vehicle.”
Kane argues that a few of the vehicle’s recalls were actually quite serious — it included a brake problem that could cause the vehicle to crash, intermittent stalling in traffic (which could also cause a crash), and some faulty wiring in the visor that was prone to causing fire. So good ol’ Mr. Kane bought that recall-riddled Grand Cherokee at the request of the Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety Foundation out of Sacramento, California since his nonprofit focuses primarily on injury prevention and product safety, and guess where that led? It led to finger pointing with no one wanting to accept responsibility.
In response to these findings, CarMax explained that every vehicle listed for sale on its website has a link to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s “VIN Look-up website,” where potential buyers can type in any vehicle identification number they want and check whether there is an open recall in place. But while this may sound like an appropriate action to take, many Americans still don’t think about things like this, even when common sense would suggest otherwise.
Before I go off on a fresh tangent about ways in which you can outsmart the dealer, it is important to note that CarMax did specifically state that all consumers should have open recalls repaired immediately upon purchase and that most safety-related recall repairs can be handled by a new-car dealership, so Kane should take his purchase straight to Jeep. But Kane has his own take on this, claiming that CarMax “touts that its vehicles undergo extensive safety inspections” but continues to send “mixed messages” to consumers.
“Why would they let me drive off without fixing it?” Kane exclaims. “Had I not asked about the recalls, I’m pretty sure the salesperson would not have pulled up those recalls to show me.”
Technically, Kane still legally owns the vehicle and he claims that the Jeep shall neither be driven nor sold prior to the necessary repairs being addressed and it gets a clean bill of health. He’s also indicating that this a conscious move by dealerships to take advantage of problem-prone automobiles.
“We never claimed we didn’t know there were recalls on the vehicles. I went in there as a consumer to try to understand how their process works and what happens when a consumer buys a vehicle with a recall,” Kane told Automotive News.
Meanwhile, Automotive News found that the Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group Education Fund conducted an investigation on October 28 where out of 243 vehicles on a CarMax lot, 17% of them had open recalls that had not been attended to. This study sounds strangely similar to one conducted out in California last May, when the California Public Interest Research Group and the aforementioned Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety Foundation discovered that 10% of all vehicles CarMax offered for sale at its Oxnard, California store on May 20 to 21 and 9% of the cars at its Sacramento South store on May 26 to 27 were docked for safety recalls.
So what does this all mean for potential car buyers? Well, do some research. CarMax is right when it says that as a potential used car buyer it is the individual’s responsibility to research a vehicle to the point where they feel totally confident when it is time to sign on the dotted line. Plus, is anyone really surprised that a used car salesperson out of all people coincidentally neglected to tell Kane that his Jeep had some outstanding recalls on its roster? These are potential deal breakers, and while it is a violation of CarMax company policy not to make mention of any recalls, covering one’s own ass sounds a lot like common sense to us.