AutoNation accused of selling vehicles with unrepaired safety recalls

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A new report out Tuesday accuses one of the nation’s largest car retail chains of selling used vehicles with unrepaired safety recalls. The U.S. Public Interest Research Group looked into 2,400 used vehicles at 28 AutoNation dealerships nationwide. It claims “one in nine” had safety recall issues, including problems linked to deaths and injuries.

In 2015, AutoNation said it would no longer sell used cars with open safety recalls. But it reversed course the next year, and PIRG said it’s been looking into how many unrepaired used cars are sold to consumers. But this issue isn’t limited to AutoNation, CBS News’ Anna Werner reports.

We checked in with a Florida car dealer we met three years ago who said it’s still a problem nationwide. In Lake Park, Florida, dealer Earl Stewart walks a lot filled with cars that he owns but refuses to sell because they have defective Takata airbags.

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“If I can’t sell a car that I would sell to my own family to my customer, I’m not going to sell the car,” said Stewart, who estimates he’s lost close to $600,000 on those cars over the past three years because he can’t get the parts to fix them.

“We have to hold those cars until the Takata airbag is available to fix it. So I’m suffering a huge amount, most of that, half-a-million-dollars plus, is from depreciation,” he said.

But other dealers do sell cars with safety recalls, according to the new PIRG report. According to the report, some of the unrepaired safety recalls were Takata airbags and General Motors ignition switches linked to injuries and deaths.

“These recalls range from explosive Takata airbags to steering malfunctions to seatbelt problems that could put the lives of drivers, passengers and others on the road at risk even before the purchaser got home,” said Adam Garber, who co-authored the report.

  • To check if your vehicle needs to be repaired as part of a recall enter your VIN number here.

In 2015, AutoNation said it would no longer sell any vehicle, used or new, with an open safety recall.

“We’re just gonna put the customer first and the customer’s safety first,” former AutoNation CEO Mike Jackson said on CNBC. “You better care about recalls, I think the industry needs to get its act together around recalls, and we want to do our part.”

But a little over a year later, AutoNation reversed course and resumed selling vehicles with active recalls. Jackson told Automotive News “with the Trump administration there’s no way that that issue is going to be addressed from a regulatory point of view.”

“AutoNation advertises that these processes are worry-free, and they’re not worry-free if I have a car with a Takata airbag in it – that’s something I’m probably pretty worried about,” Garber said.

AutoNation told CBS News it has not had the opportunity to see the U.S. PIRG report but disputed its accuracy, saying it repairs the cars if it has the parts or holds the cars if instructed to by manufacturers. For cars it does sell with unrepaired recalls, the company said they sell them “with full disclosure.”

But Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal, who’s pushing legislation to outlaw the sales of used cars with unrepaired defects, said disclosure isn’t enough.

“Disclosure is really no substitute for repair,” Blumenthal said. “The dealers who say disclosure is a substitute for repairs ignore the plain fact that unsafe vehicles are a menace. Not only to passengers and drivers, but to other motorists.”

AutoNation said it fully complies with all laws and regulations regarding recalls and said any suggestion that it is “knowingly or deliberately seeking to mislead consumers is entirely unfounded.”

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