California Consumer Advocates Target Sales of Used Cars With Open Safety Recalls

Report Takes Aim at National Auto Dealership Chain

What to Know

  • A new report by CALPIRG and CARS found about 1 in 9 used cars at a national dealership had open safety recalls
  • Consumer advocates say cars with open recalls are potentially dangerous and should not be sold until repairs are made
  • Auto dealers say they are in full compliance with federal law, and that they disclose open recalls to potential buyers

FREMONT -- Two California-based consumer watchdog groups are calling out a major automotive dealership chain for selling used cars with open recalls, a practice consumer advocates call "unsafe".

On Tuesday, the California Public Interest Research Group (CALPIRG), and Consumers for Automotive Reliability and Safety (CARS) released the findings of their study on used car sales. The report targets AutoNation, one of the largest automotive dealership groups in the U.S., for what researchers call the sale of "...recalled used vehicles that contain dangerous safety defects."

CALPIRG and CARS researchers say they surveyed more than 2,400 used cars listed for sale at 28 AutoNation dealerships nationwide. Their report claims 1 in 9 of those vehicles had unrepaired safety recalls.

"Those vehicles are potentially hazardous to the people who buy them, their passengers, and everyone else on the road," the authors wrote. "Vehicles with defects subject to safety recalls -- including malfunctioning Takata airbags and General Motors ignition switches -- have been responsible for thousands of injuries and deaths."

The findings are similar to those in an NBC Bay Area investigation earlier this year. Our consumer team surveyed more than 1,000 used cars for sale, and identified more than 100 unrepaired safety recalls.

At a news conference outside AutoNation Honda in Fremont, CALPIRG Campaign Associate Claudia Deeg compared the sale of used vehicles with open recalls to selling potentially hazardous consumer products.

"We believe that if you're not allowed to sell a toy that could poison your kid, or a microwave that can explode when you use it, you should not be allowed to sell a car that could kill you on your ride home from the dealership."

The CALPIRG and CARS report criticized AutoNation in particular for backing off its promise in 2015 to stop selling used cars with open recalls. AutoNation reversed that policy in late 2016.

In a written statement provided to NBC Bay Area, AutoNation pushed back on the notion of any wrongdoing by its dealerships, and claimed CALPIRG's national partner U.S. PIRG failed to contact AutoNation about its study.

"AutoNation is in full compliance with all laws and regulations regarding recalls and with all recall directives provided by the vehicle manufacturers," the statement read. "Moreover, the US PIRG report does not accurately depict the buying process at AutoNation dealerships. The groups responsible for the report did not attempt to thoroughly review the purchasing process at any of AutoNation’s 200+ locations across the country. Nor did they reach out to AutoNation to obtain information about our policies and procedures surrounding recalls."

AutoNation also provided NBC Bay Area a recall disclosure form that all buyers must sign before completing a purchase. The agreement gives buyers "the opportunity to schedule or complete recall repairs prior to purchase."

Federal law bans the sale of new cars with open safety recalls, but not used vehicles. A recent federal bill was aimed at banning recalled used car sales nationwide. It appears to be stalled in the U.S. Senate.

To find any open recalls on a vehicle you own or are considering buying, enter the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) at The VIN is typically located on the driver's side dashboard.

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