CarMax sells unsafe, recalled cars

CarMax, the nation’s largest retailer of used cars, claims all its vehicles must pass a rigorous “125 point inspection.” It also advertises that all its cars are so-called “CarMax Quality Certified.”

But instead of living up to its hype, CarMax is selling LOTS of recalled cars with lethal safety defects. CarMax has a gambling addiction. It continues to play “recalled car roulette” with its customers’ lives.

Among the defects on cars waiting for sale on CarMax’s lots:

  • sticking accelerator pedals
  • catching on fire
  • hoods that fly up in traffic
  • faulty brakes
  • steering loss
  • stalling in traffic
  •  seat belts that fall apart in a crash
  • air bags that explode with excessive force and cause blindness or death

An ABC 20/20 undercover investigation found unrepaired recalled vehicles for sale on CarMax’s lot in Hartford, Connecticut. CarMax’s excuse? It can’t be bothered waiting for the FREE repairs.

ABC 20/20 exposes CarMax’s sales of damaged cars and unsafe, recalled cars

CarMax Admits It Sells Unsafe, Recalled Cars
So — how can a car that’s so unsafe pass their so-called  “rigorous 125+ point inspection”? No one seems to know…and CarMax refuses to go on camera…

From ABC NEWS RADIO:

” CarMax says it has transformed the used car buying experience with no haggling pricing and financing and its “125+ point” inspection process to make sure drivers don’t end up with a lemon. But consumer advocates say CarMax sales reps don’t always disclose the complete history and condition of the vehicles they sell.

A 20/20 investigation found instances on two CarMax lots where vehicles were being sold with reportedly significant accident histories or unrepaired safety recall issues….

When it came to outstanding safety recalls, the Hartford dealership salesman was recorded on hidden camera telling Benitez that CarMax is unable to sell a car with a major safety recall. “We can’t even sell it until that’s taken care of,” he said. “We take care of any kind of safety concern prior to the car even being out here.”

However, a check of a federal government website revealed that the Toyota Camry at the Hartford CarMax dealership had three outstanding safety recalls on it at the time of our visit, including one for a power switch that could overheat and melt, possibly resulting in a fire. Five other vehicles sitting on the lot also had unfixed safety recalls, according to the government website.

CarMax declined an interview but told 20/20 in a statement that it doesn’t automatically fix recall vehicles before selling them and only does so if a customer requests it. CarMax says it does inform consumers about any open recalls and recently upgraded its website so customers can look up open recalls online through the government database. CarMax also says it retrained its staff on its recall policy.

A coalition of consumer and safety groups filed a petition with the Federal Trade Commission this June, urging the agency to investigate CarMax’s safety recall policy. Rosemary Shahan, head of Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety (CARS), is calling on the FTC to require CarMax to have all safety recall vehicles repaired before selling them to consumers. “CarMax sells vehicles that are under safety recall without bothering to fix them,” said Shahan. “If they wanted to do it right, it would be very easy for them to do it right.” (Emphasis added)

Read more: ABC 20/20:  What Do Some CarMax Sales Reps Tell  Consumers?

“check engine” light woes

You’re a smart consumer. So before you buy that used car, you take it for a test drive.  You notice that there are no warning lights on the dashboard. You think everything is fine, and you buy the car.

But — shortly after you drive it home, the “check engine” light comes on. This spells trouble. BIG trouble. This scenario is playing out all over the country. It’s become a frequent complaint among used car buyers. “I just bought it and now the ‘check engine’ light is on.”  Adding to the woes experienced by consumers who are victims of “check engine-itis” — the repairs to get that pesky light to go off can cost $3,000 — $4,000 or more.

Margie Y of Hawthorne, CA contacted CARS and said she bought a used Toyota for her daughter, as a present for her 21st birthday, from a local dealership. Within a day, the “check engine” light came on. Then the alternator blew up, and the car caught on fire. When she had the partly charred Toyota towed to a mechanic, he said it needed a new alternator, catalytic converter, and solenoid — at an estimated cost of over $2400.  Money she didn’t have, since she had paid $6200 cash for the Flaming Toyota, and also traded in a vehicle that was running fine, plus had paid $300 for the tow.

Unfortunately, this story is all too familiar. So — what’s happening?  According to automotive experts, unscrupulous dealers buy “scan tools” over the internet that allow them to simply wipe out the error codes that trigger the “check engine” light. Then they sell the car.  As soon as it’s driven a short distance, the error codes register and — on goes the dashboard warning light.  Some dealers don’t bother to buy the scan tools. They just disconnect the battery, erasing the error codes and getting the “check engine” light to go off just long enough to foist the car off onto an unsuspecting used car buyer.

Not only are the dealers cheating their customers, they’re also falsifying smog test results and polluting the air. They know that chances are good their customers won’t be able to pay for the expensive repairs, and will end up driving the car despite the fact it doesn’t meet emissions standards.  The day of reckoning may come when the hapless consumer tries to register it, and it won’t pass the smog test. But by then, the dealer figures it will be too late for the consumer to take them to court.

What can you do to avoid becoming a victim of “check engine-itis”?  The most effective single thing you can do is to insist on getting your own trusted mechanic to inspect the car before you buy. They should be able to detect the fact the error codes have been wiped clean, and also do a check of the emissions system that will turn up the problems.  Where can you find a good, reliable mechanic?  Car Talk’s Mechanics Files is a terrific resource, where you can find the best mechanics in your area, based on reviews written by their own customers.

Check Car Talk’s Mechanics Files to find a reliable mechanic — before you buy

Tell the seller that you want them to take the car to YOUR mechanic before you’ll agree to buy.  If they balk at that, or try to talk you out of it, well, that’s why God gave you feet — so you can walk away from there. Pronto.  There are plenty of good used cars for sale.You don’t need to get stuck with one that will cause you hassles and headaches.

Unsafe, Recalled Used Cars for Sale on Dealer Lots

Used car dealers across the nation persist in foisting off unsafe, recalled vehicles on an unsuspecting public. Motor vehicles rank among the most hazardous consumer products in the nation, in terms of fatalities, serious and debilitating injuries, and economic costs to our country.

Fortunately, car dealers are prohibited by federal law from selling or leasing NEW cars that are being recalled by the manufacturer. But unfortunately, there is no such law to protect USED car buyers.

Each year, about 40 million people purchase used cars. But the powerful auto dealer lobby — which received billions of taxpayer dollars during the Great Recession — has blocked attempts in Congress to protect used car buyers from unsafe, defective recalled cars being sold at dealerships.

News organizations have repeatedly identified this problem. In 2010, the non-partisan U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) recommended that Congress address the threat posed by unsafe, recalled used cars. But so far, Congress has failed to act. Auto dealers are not even required to report fatal or injury crashes involving recalled vehicles they sell to the public, to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

CBS’ Early Show investigated sales of recalled, used cars and found unfixed, recalled cars on lots scattered across the country.  When they asked if the cars were being recalled, sales personnel assured them that they wouldn’t have them for sale if they were being recalled. If only that were true.

According to CBS’ Early Show: “A dealer in Oklahoma sold Tabitha Gordon a used Durango in 2009. She was driving with her son, Kaden, when the lights, wipers and locks went haywire.  Gordon said of the incident, “I felt like I was in a twilight zone. … The plastic that covers the speedometer had popped, and smoke started billowing into the vehicle.”

She managed to pull over and get Kaden out as the car caught on fire. [“Early Show” Consumer Correspondent Susan] Koeppen said it turns out Gordon was sold a car that had been recalled for an electrical defect.  “We were told that it was safe and it would be a safe vehicle for our family,” Gordon said. “And it wasn’t, it was far from it.

Watch video: CBS Early Show — Recalled Used Cars Up For Sale

Can you imagine how awful it would be, for your car to catch on fire, when you have your child strapped in a child safety seat in the back? What if you are driving with several children who are strapped in? Would you be able to get all of them out in time, before the car explodes?

Auto dealers complain that it’s too much bother for them to find out if a car is being recalled and get it fixed, before offering it for sale. They would rather risk your life, and your family’s safety, than take the time to call the manufacturer’s toll free number and check the car’s status, or visit the manufacturer’s website, online, and get the car fixed — for free.

CARS believes that even if you can’t afford a new car, or if you simply decide that a used car is a better deal, you and your family still deserve to be safe.

What can you to to protect yourself from unsafe, recalled used cars?  When you find a car you like,  NEVER take the car dealer’s word for it that the car does not have a safety recall pending.  As reporters have repeatedly documented, car dealers are prone to lying about safety recalls, even if you ask them face-to-face about a specific car.

Instead, BEFORE you buy, do your own research.  Note the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN), which is stamped on a small plate on the dashboard, visible through the windshield. Call the auto manufacturer’s toll-free number and ask if all the recall work has already been done. Or check the auto manufacturer’s website, under “safety recalls,” and enter the VIN.  You can also contact a local dealership that sells that make of vehicle, and ask them to double-check for you. Since new car dealers get paid to do recall repairs on makes they sell, at least they have some incentive to tell you the truth.

Read More: CARS tips for used car buyers