Savvy Consumer: Check used car to see whether it’s subject to recall

Posted Friday, Feb. 28, 2014  comments  Print Reprints

Tips for buying a used car

• For a free check on safety recalls by vehicle identification number, go to the Carfax website,, or call the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s vehicle safety hotline, 888-327-4236, or its website, The website also provides a five-star system evaluating crashworthiness and rollover safety.

• Get a complete vehicle history on any used car you’re considering buying, including accidents, lemon law history, title information (for flood and salvaged cars) and the odometer reading. Used-car dealers will often provide the report for free, so ask for it. AutoCheck and Carfax offer comprehensive reports for around $40.

• Check out’s true market value pricing at It’s based on recent sales figures of similar cars nationwide.

• Consider a certified pre-owned vehicle, which means it has passed inspection and is backed by a warranty. Make sure it is “factory” certified, not just an extended warranty offered by the dealer.

• On the test drive, make sure the car is cold to see how it starts. And evaluate these points: acceleration from a stop, visibility (blind spots), engine noise, passing acceleration (downshifting quickly and smoothly), hill-climbing power, braking, cornering, suspension, rattles and squeaks, and cargo space.

• Unless it’s certified pre-owned, take it to a mechanic for a thorough inspection.

• Register your cars, tires and car seats with the safety administration to receive email notifications for recalls.

• Get alerts on your phone. The Safercar app is available for both Apple and Android devices, and an RSS feed sends recall data directly to smartphones. It provides information on crash test ratings and child seat installation locations.

Sources:, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

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Texas is No. 1 again. But this time, it’s for vehicles listed for sale online that have an open safety recall, meaning the manufacturer ordered a recall but the vehicle was not repaired.

Nationwide, 3.5 million vehicles listed for sale in 2013 had unfixed recalls based on their vehicle identification number, according to Carfax, an online automotive information service.

Texas had 308,000 of those, almost 10 percent. That’s nearly 50 percent more than the second- and third-place states — California with 214,000 and Missouri with 212,000.

Carfax spokesman Christopher Basso said many people don’t know about recalls because they moved or the car changed hands. And many car owners may not realize that the item can often be fixed for free.

Carfax provides recall information for free on its website if you have the 17-digit VIN.

“For years, the open-recall information has been VIN-specific,” Basso said. “We feel every safety-related recall needs to be addressed. Without fixing the problem, a car can cause a fire. Air bags can be deployed inadvertently. Lots of things can go wrong.”

Last year, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported 632 safety recalls involving almost 22 million vehicles, the most since 2004, when recalls affected 30.8 million vehicles. Toyota had the most recalled vehicles for the second year in a row, with 5.3 million in 2013.

The report includes heavy-duty trucks, motorcycles and buses, along with light-duty trucks and cars. Among the largest 18 automakers, 184 recalls were made for about 19.6 million vehicles last year. Both numbers are increases from 2012, when those same manufacturers issued 153 recalls for about 15.6 million vehicles.

Once a defect is found, the manufacturer can repair the vehicle at no charge; replace it with an identical or similar vehicle; or refund the purchase price, minus a reasonable allowance for depreciation.

The free repair has a time frame. To be eligible for a free remedy, the agency says, the vehicle cannot be more than 10 years old on the date that the defect or noncompliance is determined. Vehicle age is calculated from the date of sale to the first buyer.

If, for example, a defect is found in 2013 and a recall is ordered, manufacturers must correct the problem for free only for vehicles bought new in 2004 through 2013. The agency said used cars too old for the free repair should still be fixed for passenger safety, even if the money comes out of your own pocket.

The agency said last week that all manufacturers must use a distinctive label on required mailings to notify owners of recalls. The requirement was introduced to help owners distinguish recall notices from junk mail.

“Recalls only work if consumers are aware of them,” Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said. “This new label will allow consumers to quickly recognize recall notices mailed to their homes so they can act quickly to get their vehicles, child restraints, tires or other motor vehicle equipment fixed.”

The red-and-black label says “Important Safety Recall Information Issued in Accordance to Federal Law” and has the logos of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Transportation Department. It is designed to protect consumers from sales and marketing materials that mimic legitimate recall alerts but are really just advertising for unrelated products.

Starting this year, the safety administration is requiring car and motorcycle manufacturers to give consumers a free online tool that will enable them to search for recall information by VIN.

That tool will be at by late August. Consumers can already check for open recalls, investigations and complaints on the website.

Before buying a used car in Texas, check out its safety history.

Teresa McUsic’s column appears Saturdays.

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