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