ABC News Investigation Finds Hundreds of New Cars Sold with Open Recalls
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ABC News Investigation Finds Hundreds of New Cars Sold with Open Recalls

March 20, 2015

An ABC News investigation found that hundreds of vehicles were sold with open recalls, a violation of federal law.

The sales came from more than 100 dealerships across the country with most taking place in the second part of 2014.

Dealerships are required by law to fix an open recall before they sell a new car, but they aren't legally required to tell a customer that the car had been recalled.

In 2014 only two dealerships were fined by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) for selling cars that had open recalls.

"Anyone with information about dealers selling new cars with safety defects should provide that information to NHTSA so we can investigate and hold dealers accountable for any violations," the NHTSA wrote in a statement to ABC News.

Used car dealerships and rental car agencies, for the record, don't have to have recalls repaired before selling or renting a car. The U.S. Department of Transportation and consumer advocates are pressuring Congress to change that.

Proposed Law Would Require Owners to Repair Recalls

Dealerships are legally required to fix recalls before a car us up for sale, but there currently no law that forces car owners to fix a recalled vehicle.

A proposed law, however, if passed would compel car owners to fix recalls before they could renew their registration.

The bill, introduced by Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., and Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., would require that when state motor vehicle registration agencies notify car owners of an expiring registration, they also include any information related to open recalls.

By law, car makers must send mailed notices to owners of recalled cars. In some cases these notices also come via email or by phone. The bill would add another layer of notification.

As reported in the Detroit News, states that don't require owners to complete vehicle recalls before renewing their license plates, they would lose highway safety funding. This is already done for states with weak seatbelt and drunk driving laws.

There would be some exemptions: "If an owner wasn't notified of the recall when the registration renewal reminder came out or the manufacturer lacks the parts or labor to complete the recall, or the vehicle owner demonstrates there was no reasonable opportunity to fulfill the recall then the state agency could grant a temporary registration of up to 60 days," wrote the Detroit News.

In 2014 alone 64 million vehicles were recalled, most related to General Motors ignition switch defect that shuts off power to the car, and Takata's exploding airbags.

Detroit News' Phil Berg writes that of those 64 million, one-third or 21 million cars won't be fixed by their owners. The older the car, the less likely it will end up at the dealership for a fix.