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When recalls don’t catch up with used cars

The numbers of used vehicles sold each year surpasses new vehicle sales by a wide margin. Last year, Edmunds reported that people purchased 38 million used vehicles. Many of these sales occur at auction and are “as is.”

New York State, however, forbids these “as is” sales and requires a used vehicle to be “roadworthy” prior to a sale. An unfortunate loophole exists for government auctions such as the city’s Department of Finance auctions. This can leave defective vehicles (subject to recall, but often unrepaired) traveling on our roads.

Exploding airbags and other defects

Recently, we wrote about the growing recall of Takata airbags. We also noted how hard it can be for Honda to locate second, third or fourth owners.

The tragic death of a California woman shows what can go wrong. The woman's son purchased a 2001 Honda Civic for her from an acquaintance. She was the fourth owner of the car. A recall has been issued in 2008. Honda claimed to have sent out 20 letters and made 90 calls to previous owners. But the letters and calls never reached the woman or her son who purchased the car.

Last month, on her day off she was on her way to get a flu shot. She couldn’t stop and hit a truck that turned into her path. The airbag went off and exploding metal shards caused fatal injuries. It was a fender bender crash that she should have walked away from.

A Carfax report published by the New York Times, showed the recall and a prior collision that didn’t trigger the airbag. Tough laws designed to protect those who purchase used cars have been discussed in Washington, but have gone nowhere.

How many defective cars are on the roads?

It’s impossible to know just how many cars still have defective airbags or other parts. Honda has a reputation for longevity, so the number of its vehicle on the roads with faulty airbags may still be quite high.

If you drive a used vehicle, do a search of recall information with the car’s manufacturer or through the government’s auto safety online tool or hotline. When an injury is much more severe that would typically occur in an accident, speak with a lawyer about what happened.

Mistakes can happen at many points during the manufacture of a vehicle and they may or may not trigger a recall. An investigation may uncover a defect, so never get rid of the vehicle even when totaled.

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