How Recalls Affect Used Car Buyers

Last updated on March 21st, 2018

General Motors has announced the recall of 67,000 of its Cadillac ATS sedans, a range of compact sports models in the company’s luxury segment. The news follows the last week’s recalls by Land Rover and Mercedes Benz, bringing the problem of road safety to the luxury car sector once again. Just like with other car makers, this recall affects models that were manufactured between 2013 and 2015 – the newest Cadillacs available on the market.

General Motors cites faulty sunroof controls as the reason for the recall. If a non-recessed switch controlling the sunroof retraction is touched, it could cause the roof to close unexpectedly. The problem here is the amount of force required to activate the switch – it is much less than allowed by federal safety rules.

General Motors discovered the problem last month while testing the Cadillac 2016 model. It has already started repairs on the non-released cars and sent the repair guidelines to its dealerships. The fix for the Cadillacs will involve replacing the switch plates in the affected cars. As far as General Motors can tell, the problem concerns cars only sold in the United States and Canada, not overseas.

The wave of recalls in recent weeks and months serves as a good reminder that any car can be prone to defects, luxury or budget or otherwise. Car companies generally do a good job of identifying, recalling and repairing affected vehicles. Not only their reputation is on the line, but the law is firmly on the side of the consumer in these matters. However, the U.S. law lacks an important clause that protects a more vulnerable car buyer – the used car buyer.

There are estimated 238 millions of cars driving along the American roads, and a whopping 47 million of them may have unaddressed recall defects. If the number seems shocking, consider that 25 percent of car owners who receive a recall notice never bother to get the car to a dealership to get it fixed. Whether they continue driving it or decide to sell it, the car drives on without the necessary repairs, potentially becoming a safety threat. Even if the defect does not affect drivability, it gets passed along to the next owner and could accumulate more problems down the line.

The main issue with used cars having recall defects is that dealerships selling them are under no obligation to fix them. Not only that, but dealerships also do not have to disclose recall notices to potential buyers. This failure to disclose may lead to accidents and fatalities if the recall on a given car model concerns safety. However, dealerships rarely withhold information from potential buyers on purpose: they may simply lack the means to check for recalls on cars that they put on their lots. A federal database that allows dealerships to verify the recall status of their cars went live in August 2014. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is now pushing for legislation that would also oblige used-car dealers to make fixes to recalled cars before selling them.

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