WASHINGTON, D.C. — In a rare move for auto safety advocates, leaders of nonprofit consumer groups that are usually at odds with auto manufacturers publicly commended General Motors for the auto giant’s recently announced commitment not to sell used vehicles with unrepaired safety recall defects on its soon-to-be-launched used car platform, CarBravo.
Many car dealers across the country sell hazardous used vehicles with known safety recall defects, including catching on fire, faulty brakes, stalling in traffic, steering wheels that come off in the driver’s hands, hoods that fly up in traffic, seat belts that fail in a crash, and ticking time bomb Takata airbags that propel metal shrapnel into the faces and torsos of drivers and passengers, too often causing severe injuries and fatalities. Currently, the only industry in America that openly accepts the selling of unsafe recalled products to the public is the auto industry.
“As the first automaker to make this commitment, General Motors is taking a giant step forward in protecting the public from hazardous vehicles. GM is recognizing what auto safety advocates have maintained for years, which is that vehicles with safety recall defects can injure occupants and others who share the roads with these problem cars,” said Jack Gillis, Executive Director of the Consumer Federation of America.
General Motors’ CarBravo will be competing toe-to-toe with established used car behemoth CarMax, and market disrupters Carvana and Vroom. These dealers openly admit that they routinely sell used vehicles with hazardous unrepaired safety recalls instead of getting the free repairs done, including vehicles where the manufacturer warns that there is no fix available – leaving consumers stuck with unsafe vehicles they cannot get fixed, sometimes for many months.
“We challenge CarMax, AutoNation, Vroom, Carvana, and other car dealers to meet the safety standard that General Motors is setting with CarBravo,” said Rosemary Shahan, President of Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety (CARS), which has been leading efforts to curb car dealers’ sales of used vehicles with unrepaired safety recalls.
“The days when it was considered even remotely acceptable for car dealers to sell used vehicles with unrepaired safety recalls to consumers are over,” said Michael Brooks, Acting Director of the Center for Auto Safety.
“While GM’s commitment is a big deal, it’s still important for Congress to make it a violation of federal law for any car dealer to sell unrepaired recalled used vehicles to consumers,” said Ed Mierzwinski, Senior Director, Federal Consumer Programs, U.S. PIRG.
Congress has prohibited this conduct in the sale of new cars since the 1960’s. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has authority to crack down on such reckless practices and issue fines, without consumers having to suffer damages, or be injured or killed. Federal law enacted in 2015, the Raechel and Jacqueline Houck Safe Rental Car Act, also prohibits rental car companies with fleets of 35 or more vehicles from renting, loaning, or selling recalled used vehicles without first repairing the safety recalls. However, other dealers do not face the same federal sanctions regarding unrepaired recalled used vehicles.
This Act is named in memory of two sisters who were ages 20 and 24 when they were killed by an unrepaired recalled Chrysler PT Cruiser rental car that caught on fire and lost steering, causing them to collide with an 18-wheeler. Using California’s state laws against negligence and wrongful death, their parents obtained a $15 million jury verdict against the rental car company. Then their mother, Cally Houck, and CARS worked for over five years to make such tragedies also a violation of federal law.
Other consumers victimized by dealers who sold them unsafe recalled used vehicles, or their surviving family members, have also brought lawsuits against the car dealers under state laws against violations of the common law duty of care, negligence, or wrongful death. Some consumers who were not injured physically, but were sold unrepaired recalled vehicles, have obtained confidential settlements in legal cases alleging violations of express or implied warranties, unfair and deceptive acts or practices, fraud, or other violations of state laws. For example, Indiana makes it a violation of the state’s unfair and deceptive acts and practices statute for any merchant to sell a new or used recalled product.
Despite consumer protection laws in nearly every state which render auto dealers potentially liable if they fail to fix safety recalls before selling used cars to consumers, dealers exploit mandatory arbitration clauses in sales contracts and other barriers to justice to continue selling dangerous, unrepaired recalled used cars.
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