Is Buying a Used Car that Needs Recall Work Worth the Risk?

According to reports, more than nine million cars have been recalled in the U.S. since the beginning of this year. That is an astounding number. Some of this year’s recalls are pretty scary too. Some include dangerous Takata airbag inflators, while others include fire risks and faulty brake lights. Unfortunately, some of these cars might be for sale. And if they aren’t now? They could show up on a used car lot in the future.

But what does that mean for you? After all, recalls happens from time to time and are considering fairly typical in the automotive industry. Unfortunately, for used car shoppers, dealers, and private-party sellers aren’t required to repair a vehicle that’s been recalled. That’s not all, either.

Cars parked in front of a used car dealership
A used car lot | Steven Miric/Construction Photography/Avalon/Getty Images

Is it illegal to sell a car with an outstanding recall?

According to Consumer Reports, it’s not illegal to sell a car with an outstanding recall. In fact, Will Wallace, a senior policy analyst at Consumer Reports, says that used car shoppers are basically on their own as used car dealers and private-party sellers aren’t required to make any repairs related to open recalls. Wallace added, “They don’t even have to inform potential buyers that a recall has been issued for the car they’re considering.”

How to find out if a used car has an outstanding recall

Determining whether or not the used car you’re looking at has been recalled is relatively simple. Start by taking a look on the lower left of the used vehicle’s windshield. There, you should find the car’s 17-character Vehicle Identification Number (VIN). If you have trouble finding it there, the car’s VIN should also be located on its registration card. With that information in hand, you can head to the NHTSA’s recall website. 

According to the NHTSA, entering a vehicle’s VIN in its search tool will show vehicle safety recalls from major automakers, motorcycle manufacturers, and some medium and heavy truck manufacturers. Autolist reports that if you have trouble navigating the NHTSA’s recall website, a Carfax History report can also tell you if the used car you’re considering has an outstanding recall. Make sure to check out the vehicle manufacturer’s website too.

Why Do I Keep Getting Calls About a Recall for My Car?

Buying a used car that needs recall work doesn’t have to be risky

You’ve got your heart set on a used vehicle that needs recall work. What should you do next? Well, according to Wallace, “Consumers can make a demand of any seller that they fix any open defects before selling the vehicle to them. And that’s a reasonable request, and the burden for safety in this case shouldn’t fall on consumers.”

Fortunately, the National Independent Automobile Dealers Association (NIADA), a group representing several independent used car dealerships, recommends that all recall work be carried out before a used car is sold too. 

“NIADA recommends that as a best practice, all dealers should take steps to identify open recalls in their inventory and have those recalls fixed before selling a vehicle, if possible. NIADA also recommends dealers disclose the existence of any unrepaired open recall at the point of sale.”

Shaun Petersen, NIADA’s senior vice president of legal and government affairs, told Consumer Reports.

In the end, buying a used vehicle that needs recall work doesn’t have to be risky. Instead, get a good understanding of what the recall work entails and whether or not the seller is willing to get it taken care of. And if they aren’t? You can either handle the work post-purchase or move on to a different used car.