“It’s a difficult problem,” said Clarence Ditlow, director of the Center for Auto Safety in Washington. “If you look at the older vehicles, the recall rate can drop to less than 50 percent.”
More than 17 million U.S. vehicles have been recalled for potentially defective Takata inflators, according to Reuters. According to a government analysis of recalls from 2000 through 2008, about 65 percent of recalled cars each year get fixed within 18 months of the recall.
So if just 65 percent of the Takata-related vehicles are fixed, that would leave some 6 million or more vehicles on the road with potentially explosive inflators that could send deadly shrapnel at drivers and passengers.
For years, Ditlow said, he has suggested a law requiring dealers to complete all recalls before selling a used car. In private transactions, the buyer would have to complete the recall before registering the vehicle.
Some lawmakers favor less drastic methods. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., has proposed a law requiring all dealerships to inform used-car buyers of any open recalls.
Now, automakers aren’t required to send recall notices to independent used-car lots. To get recall notices, those dealerships can check vehicle identification numbers at SaferCar.gov, a public database maintained by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
That would be time-consuming for any dealer that has a couple of hundred used cars on the lot, says Steve Jordan, executive vice president of the National Independent Automobile Dealers Association.
Recalls are a major headache for used-car lots, Jordan said. “It’s a broken system. Used-car dealers don’t have any more access to this data than consumers do.”
There’s another problem. Used-car lots can’t fix recalled vehicles themselves; they must send those vehicles to a franchised dealership, said Frank Fuzy, owner of Century Motors of South Florida, a family-owned used-car lot in Pompano Beach, Fla.
“We are at the mercy of a new-car dealer to get our cars repaired,” Fuzy said. “If there is one replacement part in the bin, who will get that part — us or the new-car dealership?”
Automakers are required by law to send recall notifications to car owners via first-class mail, but some automakers have taken extra steps in response to the Takata recalls.
Nissan uses a third-party vendor to search vehicle registration databases in all 50 states to find the current owner of recalled vehicles, whether used or new, according to a spokesman.
For its Takata recalls, Nissan used FedEx overnight mail to notify the affected owners, and it has retained a third-party vendor for a multimedia outreach campaign, the spokesman said.
Honda has sent notices in English and Spanish, used overnight mail delivery and used customer relations staff and robocalls to contact more than 700,000 “hard-to-reach” car owners by phone, said spokesman Chris Martin.
Honda uses the same recall methods to reach owners whether their vehicle is new or used, so it is not inherently more difficult to contact owners of older, used cars, Martin contends.
But Martin acknowledged that it’s more difficult to ensure that owners of older vehicles get them repaired.
He wrote in an email, “As vehicles get older and change hands more often, it is our experience that subsequent owners may not regularly service their vehicles at an authorized Honda or Acura dealership, where the latest recall information and repairs are available at each service visit.”