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Shoppers purchase used recalled cars that aren't repaired

May 11, 2012|By Jerry Hirsch | This post has been corrected, as indicated below.
  • A line of 2003 Chevrolet Impalas sits at a dealership in a file photo. These cars were recalled for engine fires but many owners failed to get them fixed, Edmunds.com reports.
A line of 2003 Chevrolet Impalas sits at a dealership in a file photo. These… (Bloomberg )

The editors of Edmunds.com’s online auto forum recently noticed a wave of complaints about engine fires in older-model GM vehicles, primarily in vehicles equipped with a 3.8-liter V6 engine produced by the automaker.

But what caught their interest was that these were all vehicles that had been recalled at least three years ago, yet people were complaining now.

The auto information company said the surge in complaints highlights a problem with recalls – many owners of the affected cars don’t bother to get them fixed. 

An analysis of the two GM recalls examined by Edmunds.com showed a "completion rate" of just 52.5% as of December 2011. GM says that its recalls generally reach a completion rate of about 70%. No other automaker would provide Edmunds.com with a completion rate for their recalls.

Often these unrepaired vehicles are sold to unsuspecting buyers who have no clue they are purchasing a flawed vehicle.

“The current system does not make it easy for car owners – especially used-car owners – to know if their vehicles are up-to-date on recall services,” says Edmunds.com Senior Editor John O’Dell. “And since there’s only so much the manufacturers can do to reach out to car owners, the responsibility for ensuring that a car has been checked for recalls ultimately rests with individual owners.”

O’Dell said that used-car buyers should register their vehicles with the automakers to make sure they’re in the loop on any existing or future recalls.

They should also check out the U.S. Department of Transportation’s www.safercar.gov, a database where a car buyer can look to see if the model they are looking at was part of a recall. A system that would allow buyers to use specific vehicle identification numbers to check if the car they are considering has been repaired is under development but there is no word on when it will be ready. 

Edmunds noted that there are no laws that require a car's owner to notify a potential buyer that the car being sold is the subject of a recall.

The auto information company also said automakers send out letters of notification, but the owners might have moved and not left forwarding addresses. During two years of GM recalls ending in 2009 almost 8% of the notifications were not delivered, Edmunds reported.

[For the record, 2:19 p.m. May 11: An earlier version of this post referred to www.safercar.org. The correct site is www.safercar.gov.]

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