Used Car Dealer Suspending Sales Of Vehicles Affected By Takata Airbag Recall

Although it’s not illegal for used car dealers to sell recalled vehicles, one of the nation’s largest pre-owned dealers announced it would suspend the sale of cars with the potentially deadly Takata airbag defect that has so far been linked to four deaths and 30 injuries in the United States.

The Wall Street Journal reports that AutoNation Inc. says it will cease the sale of all vehicles equipped with Takata Corp. airbags that could explode, shooting shrapnel at passengers.

Regulators believe the airbag issues, which affect roughly 8 million vehicles worldwide, have been caused by the presence of moisture, which led automakers to initiate a majority of the recalls in areas of high humidity such as the southern United States.

Officials with AutoNation say about 400 vehicles will be on hold until airbag repairs can be made.

Additionally, when owners of affected cars come in for service the dealer will either replace the airbag, or if parts aren’t available they will place stickers in the car warning against riding in the passenger seat.

Mike Jackson, CEO of AutoNation, tells WSJ that the new policy extends to all makes and models that have been recalled by 10 large automakers so far this year.

The used car dealers’ new policy stems in part from confusion over how to deal with affected vehicles.

“We have a very difficult situation on our hands,” Jackson says. “Every manufacturer has a different policy.”

In fact, some companies have requested dealers remove passenger side airbags, while others have told dealers to simply warn customers of potential issues or to place stickers be placed in cars discouraging passengers.

Jackson says the situation could be resolved if NHTSA would issue orders detailing a uniform approach on how to proceed with affected vehicles.

While NHTSA issued an unusual warning last week urging owners of affected vehicles to get them fixed, it has done little to remedy the problem as a shortage of parts has left millions of potentially dangerous vehicles on the roadways and on dealers’ lots.

Takata’s biggest customer Honda, which has been linked to at least three of the deaths related to the airbag defect, said last week that it doesn’t have enough parts to fix the 2.8 million vehicles the company has recalled.

Instead, the manufacturer is sending out recall notifications only as parts become available, with priority being reserved for areas of high humidity.

Toyota, which expanded its recall of vehicles with Takata airbags last week, says because of the lack of parts, the company would in some cases disable the airbags, leaving a note urging customers not to ride in the front passenger seat.

Consumers who have purchased a used car recently, or who may be thinking of purchasing one, should first check NHTSA’s latest recall look-up tool to determine if the vehicle has been recalled and fixed.

The search tool, which launched in late August, requires consumers to input the vehicle’s 17-digit VIN, which can usually be found in the left corner where the dashboard meets the windshield or on insurance and registration documents. Results will then appear if the consumer has an open recall on their vehicle, and if there are none, owners will see “No Open Recalls.”

The database will only provide information on the vehicle’s safety status and won’t publish personal information or track who checked the recall status of the vehicle, officials with NHTSA say.

While AutoNation has vowed to stop selling the recalled vehicles, other used car dealers have tussled with NHTSA over the same issue in the past.

Consumer groups targeted CarMax earlier this year for its alleged deceptive practices of claiming each of its “Quality Certified” cars has undergone a “125+ point inspection,” and that only 1-in-3 of the cars it considers is accepted for sale, when that simply hasn’t been the case.

The groups – which include our colleagues at Consumers Union – filed a petition with the Federal Trade Commission asking it to investigate CarMax’s practice of marketing quality-control while still selling vehicles that require recall repairs.

CarMax and others have been vocal in their opposition of NHTSA’s recommendation to Congress that it make it against the law for dealerships to sell un-repaired recalled vehicles. The company is also trying to shoot down legislation in California that would make it the first state to ban the sale of recalled cars until they’ve been fixed.

AutoNation Halting Sales of Cars Subject to Takata Airbag Warnings [The Wall Street Journal]