Risks of Buying a Used Car and What the Dealership Isn't Telling You

After shopping in person and online, the NBCLA I-Team looked at nearly a thousand used cars for sale — and found hundreds of open recalls

Anthony Santos' Ford F-150 caught on fire while parked in his driveway.

"It caught the garage door on fire, which started engulfing the whole house on fire," he said.

He later learned a faulty cruise control switch caused the fire.

Ford knew about the problem, and recalled the trucks before Santos bought his.

But he says the used car dealer who sold him the truck didn't tell him about the open recall.

"If you're buying a car, the person selling it should either warn you or do the recall," he said.

Jason Levine with the nonprofit Center for Auto Safety says it's a recurring problem, and wants to make it illegal for car dealers to sell used cars with open recalls.

"Can you buy recalled food? Can you buy a recalled toy? Can you buy recalled medicine? Why can you buy a recalled car?" he asked.

After all, the fix is free. The carmaker pays for it.

The NBC4 I-Team wanted to find out just how big this problem is.

After shopping in person and online, the I-Team looked at nearly a thousand used cars for sale — and found hundreds of open recalls.

What was found: An engine shutdown could cause a crash, a gear shift could spontaneously move out of "park," possibly causing a backover or rollaway accident, and an accelerator pedal that might get stuck causing another potential crash.

And of course, all the Takata air bag recalls.

The used car trade group National Independent Automobile Dealers Association said sometimes recall parts aren't available for months, forcing dealers to sit on inventory they can't sell. It creates a financial hardship. The trade group says it doesn't support a law requiring dealers to fix recalls. But it does encourage dealers to disclose them to buyers.

Some carmakers including General Motors and Honda go even further. They say their dealers aren't allowed to sell used cars with open recalls.

Santos said if his dealer had told him about the fire hazard, he would have walked away.

He wants other consumers to know it's up to them to find out if the used car they're buying is a safe one.

The big take-away: Don't assume a dealer will fix an open recall or even tell you about it. You need to check that yourself, and it's easy to do.

Go to and enter the car's vehicle identification number, or VIN, and any open recalls will pop up.

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