While searching for her first car, a 2014 Chevy Cruz advertised on CarMax’s website stole Chantelle Tobe’s heart.
She said she knew she had to go to the store near her home in Georgia and check it out.
“When I got there, I loved it more,” Tobe told 41 Action News.
After purchasing the car, she happily drove it around town and even took it on a road trip. Then, a month after she bought the car, her OnStar system kept alerting her there was a problem with the vehicle. It advised her to take it in to a Chevy dealer.
After inspecting the car, the Chevy dealership notified Tobe that she had been driving with a fractured right axle the entire time she owned the car. The broken axle was under a recall, one Chevy had issued before Tobe bought the car.
“It was a 2014. I assumed everything was fine because CarMax said they did an inspection,” Tobe said.
Tobe said she was frightened thinking about what could have happened and angry that CarMax sold her a car with an outstanding recall.
But what happened to Tobe isn’t an isolated incident. Consumer advocates believe one in five cars on the road need some sort of recall repair and they attribute that to several breakdowns in the system.
Whenever a manufacturer conducts a recall to address a safety defect, federal law requires it notify the owner by first class mail to take the car to a dealer in order to get the safety concern repaired free of charge.
Still, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration estimates only a third of all cars have that work completed.
With the large number of recalls issued this year, some advocates worry some of the warnings have become “white noise.” They also believe language used in letters does not adequately convey the importance of repairs, so some consumers who are strapped for time fail to take the car in to a dealer who can perform the repair work.
Even though the manufacturer must keep records about who owns their product, sometimes the car changes hands and the manufacturer isn’t notified.
“If you are the second or third owner of the car or you have moved, you may not even get the safety recall notice,” said Rosemary Shehan, founder of the consumer watchdog group Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety, or CARS.
In other instances, consumers have found the parts are backlogged or that there are not enough mechanics tasked with making the repairs.
Some of those vehicles are now for sale on used car lots without undergoing the necessary repairs, leading some used car owners unknowingly driving vehicles with a safety defect.
Often times, the used car dealers are neither authorized nor do they have the proper parts to make the repair. Manufacturers often require the work be done by one of their dealerships so they can ensure the concern is fixed correctly.
Since used car dealerships need to turn inventory to make money, Shahan told 41 Action News she believes some don’t want to waste time waiting for another car dealer to perform the repairs.
NEXT: The U.S. currently does not have law requiring auto dealers to repair all recalled safety defects before selling a vehicle.
“CARS” currently supports legislation to require auto dealers repair all recalled safety defects associated with a vehicle before selling it. The United States currently does not have laws requiring that from dealers.
Shahan told 41 Action News that there are many dealerships that do make it a practice to fix all recalls before selling a vehicle. However, in absence of legislation requiring it, she recommends consumers check the vehicle’s background to avoid buying a car where the repairs are not completed.
You can easily find out which recalls are pending on your vehicle thanks to a database launched from NHTSA in August. It allows consumers to enter the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) for a car and see which repairs have not yet been completed on the vehicle.
NHTSA reminds consumers that manufacturers often update recalls and add cars to recall notices, so the government agency suggests regularly checking the site to see if a new recall has been added to your vehicle.
At the Chevy dealership, Tobe said the mechanic told her the car was hazardous to drive and refused to let her take the car of the lot. They gave her a loaner car while they spent almost two months fixing her vehicle.
We reached out to CarMax about Tobe’s experience and to ask how the used car store deals with recalls.
A representative told us recalls are something the store takes seriously. He provided a lengthy statement which said, “CarMax is committed to providing the most transparent car buying experience in the industry.”
CarMax now provides copies of the NHTSA VIN report to every retail customer prior to purchasing a used vehicle from the store. However, the statement says under the current recall system, the recall process is based on a relationship between the manufacturer, dealers and registered owners. Manufacturers have not authorized CarMax to complete recall repairs.
You can read the entire CarMax statement here.
Melissa Yeager can be reached at email@example.com.