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Derek T. Braslow
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The Latest on Takata: Are You Protecting Yourself from Purchasing an Unsafe Vehicle?

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This week has seen the Takata airbag story resurface in national news, as the number of affected vehicles has inflated yet again. Automaker Toyota recently announced that they would add another 543,000 vehicles to the U.S. recall, while Ford and Honda added 816,000 and 772,000 vehicles, respectively. While the addition of more than 2.1 million vehicles may seem like an astounding number, it represents less than 10 percent of the approximately 22 million vehicles currently under recall that have yet to be repaired.

Federal safety regulators have submitted a variety of reasons for why so many unsafe vehicles may still be on our Nation’s roads, ranging from confusion over which cars are involved to a lack of available repair parts—yet, one potentially overlooked factor is the sale of affected vehicles on the used car market.

Although a dealership is required to have all existing recalls performed on new cars before a sale, that same dealership is not obligated to check for, repair, or even disclose a recall on a used vehicle to a potential purchaser.

While many dealerships have individual policies that offer to fix the faulty airbags (when parts are available), there is no law that requires them to do so. This is true even for the high-risk 2001-2003 Honda models with Alpha airbags that are believed to have a rupture rate as high as 50 percent. It’s a very unsettling state of affairs.

There is likely to always be a level of unscrupulousness in the used car industry, but even some of the larger players have been remiss in the area of recalls. Just last month, CarMax and two other major used auto retailers reached a settlement with the Federal Trade Commission over complaints that they advertised their vehicles as “fully inspected” and “renewed” despite the fact that they had numerous vehicles on their sales lots with safety recalls, including Takata airbag and GM ignition switch defects that had not been detected, corrected or disclosed.

AutoNation, the country’s largest dealer group, initially stated that they would not sell any models affected by the Takata airbag recall as early as the summer of 2015. However, by fall of 2016, the company stated that it had lost an estimated $6 million due to the policy and decided to reverse course. In a December statement by CEO Mike Jackson, AutoNation announced that they would begin selling affected vehicles again with full disclosure to buyers.

Also in December, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHSTA) took steps to try and speed up the recall. Specifically, the NHSTA set new deadlines for replacement part availability and earmarked the repair-rate goal at 100 percent compliance (most recalls average 70 percent compliance). Nevertheless, the NHTSA estimates that there could still be faulty airbags in use until 2023, which would be 15 years after the first recall was announced.

Obviously, the current reality of unfortunate owners is not “if” the airbag will be replaced, but “when.” In addition, owners have to question whether or not they even have a usable vehicle until that time that the airbag is replaced. As for unsuspecting buyers, experts recommend that everyone follow these steps to ensure that they protect themselves from potentially fatal flaws when considering a pre-owned vehicle:

-        Ask a dealer to search for any open recalls on the vehicle in question

-        Pay for a Carfax vehicle history report

-        Cross-reference the car’s VIN at www.safecar.gov

-        Contact the car manufacturer—many of the larger brands have websites dedicated to recalls

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