Buying a Used Car? Look Out for Dangerous Recalls.

AutoNation was once a leader when it came to safety, but our new report found that 1 in 9 surveyed used vehicles on its lots had unrepaired recalls.

Jon Sundby

Policy Associate

How would you react if a car dealer sold you a car with defective parts that could:

Start a fire?

Eject metal fragments through the airbag?

Suddenly shut off the engine during driving?

Cause the seatbelt to stop working in a crash?

The first questions you might ask are: How can this possibly happen? Isn’t there a law against this? And if there’s not, shouldn’t there be? Shouldn’t this be illegal? 

Unfortunately, used car dealers continue to get away with selling vehicles with these and other major safety defects. And it’s not just shady used car lots, either.

This summer, I worked with other Frontier Group researchers to survey more than 2,000 cars listed for sale online at “America’s Largest Auto Retailer,” AutoNation. Our report, Unsafe Used Cars for Sale, released earlier this month, reviewed vehicles for sale at 28 AutoNation locations in 12 states, finding that more than one in nine vehicles contained unrepaired defective parts that had been recalled for putting drivers, passengers and other road users in danger.

While our report focused on AutoNation, the sale of used cars with unrepaired recalls is an industry-wide problem. In 2017, Frontier Group, MASSPIRG Education Fund and Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety released Used Car Roulette, which surveyed CARMAX dealerships in California, Massachusetts and Connecticut and found that over a quarter of used cars on those CARMAX lots had unrepaired recalls.

AutoNation was once a leader in the industry, committing in 2015 not to sell used cars with unrepaired recalls. But less than a year and a half later, the company went back on its promise and began to sell unrepaired recalled used vehicles. However, there are still car dealers that put the safety of their customers first, and by re-committing to its 2015 promise, AutoNation could do the same.  In the meantime, state attorneys general should enforce existing laws – such as those that prohibit false advertising, deceptive acts and practices, negligence and wrongful death – to prevent the sale of unsafe, unrepaired recalled vehicles to the motoring public.

We put a lot of trust in our vehicles. We trust them with our own safety, as well as the safety of our families and others on the road. Under the best circumstances, driving has risks – but one thing we should not have to worry about is being sold vehicles that contain defective, dangerous parts. To learn more, read the new report, Unsafe Used Cars for Sale. And if you’re buying a used car, make sure to visit U.S. PIRG’s consumer guide and always check for unrepaired recalls using the federal government’s online lookup tool, available at


Splash photo credit: Michael Sheehan via Flickr, CC-BY-2.0 


Jon Sundby

Policy Associate