The car is one of those affected by the Takata airbag recall, which extends to 40 million vehicles worldwide, according to The New York Times. (Honda alone added 4.5 million vehicles outside North America on July 9.) Takata has been working around the clock to get the replacement parts shipped, but demand is exceeding supply. Early reports estimated that it would take two years to produce the parts needed.
We knew that the car was subject to the recall before we bought it. Rather than being deterred, we decided this was a chance for us to document the recall process and see how long it would take to get our airbag fixed.
The problem with the Takata airbag lies with defective inflators, which can rupture during an accident. The explosion sends metal debris flying through the cabin, and those shards have injured or killed drivers. The problem seems to be worse in vehicles that are in regions with hot, humid climates.
First Signs of the Recall
We first spotted the recall notice when we ran a Carfax vehicle history report on a few of the Chargers we were interested in buying. The report showed an open recall for the driver airbag inflator. It provided an 800 number to Dodge customer service.
While negotiating with one dealership, we mentioned the recall and asked if the airbag had been fixed. "We won't sell you the car unless the recall is taken care of," the salesman said.
That was good to hear, but since this wasn't a Dodge dealership, a recall remedy would have required some effort — maybe more than the dealership cared to put into the Charger, as things turned out. We called to check on the car a few days later and learned it was no longer available. The dealership had decided to sell it at auction instead.
The salesman didn't say why the car had gone to auction when it had an interested buyer. The decision may not have been his to make. We had a strong suspicion that it was related to the recall. When we typed the Charger's VIN into the NHTSA database, "Remedy not yet available" appeared in the status field. Perhaps the used car manager couldn't afford to keep an unfixed car in his inventory for an indefinite period of time and decided to cut his losses by selling it at auction.
When we finally located our Charger in San Diego, we decided not to mention the recall for fear that we'd lose it to an auction as well. The dealership didn't bring up the recall either, and sold us the car. It was perfectly legal to do so.
It is a violation of federal law for a dealership to sell or lease a new car covered by a recall until the defect has been fixed. That law does not apply to used cars, however. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) would like to change that.
"NHTSA does not have the legal authority to require used car dealers or individual consumers to have recalled vehicles fixed prior to resale," NHTSA said in a statement to Edmunds. "However, if approved, the U.S. Department of Transportation's 'Grow America Act' will give NHTSA the authority to require rental car companies and used car dealers to participate in recalls of defective and unsafe vehicles."
For now, however, the onus is on the buyer to find out if the used car they're buying is subject to a recall. The government has a free recall look-up on its Safercar.org website. Most automakers also have a recall look-up in the owners' or customer service section of their websites.
Handling the Repair
Once the car was ours, we set about getting the airbag fixed. We called a local Dodge dealer, playing a little bit dumb, to ask if there were any open recalls on the car.
"Nope, I don't see any current recalls on it," the service advisor said after running our VIN. We mentioned that we had heard about "some type of airbag recall" on the news.
"Oh yeah, that recall," the advisor said. "There's no fix for that, so you'll have to check in at a later time."
It was distressing to think that most people would have taken him at his word and gone about their business when he said there were no recalls. Then again, most people don't check on recalls when they buy used cars. As our experience shows, they really should, if they are going to make an informed buying decision.
We considered parking the Charger until the airbag inflator fix was ready. But at the time, we had no idea how long that would be. The average buyer would not have had the luxury of parking the car, either. Plus, as we understood it, the faulty inflator doesn't spontaneously explode. The malfunction occurs when the car is in a crash that's serious enough to deploy the airbag. Finally, our Charger spent its entire life in the mild coastal climate of San Diego. In theory, its airbag was less likely to malfunction if there were a crash.
We felt that if we applied our usual standards of driving care, we would be reasonably safe in the car. So we decided to keep driving and checking in with Dodge to see if the fix was available. Much to our surprise, things went more smoothly than expected.
We called another Dodge dealer a month later and asked about the recall. After verifying our VIN, the service advisor told us the replacement part was available and made an appointment for the following week. The repair took the morning and by midday, the Charger was back in action.
Total Cost: $0
Days out of Service: 0
Chapter 1: Busting Millennial Myths and Shopping for a Used Car
Chapter 2: Buying a Car Under Recall and What It Took To Fix It
Chapter 3: Chapter 3: Adding Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and a Back-up Camera
Chapter 4: Minor Maintenance and DIY Repairs
To find a dealership that knows how to treat shoppers right, please visit Edmunds.com's Dealer Ratings and Reviews.