As the used car market continues to soar, auto safety advocates call for further action to stop used car sales with safety recalls open, and they focus their anger on an unexpected seller of cars with these potentially dangerous defects: the federal government.
At auction houses across the country, the General Services Administration unloads thousands of cars each year, hundreds with open safety recalls. The GSA, which oversees the federal government’s fleet, is disclosing any recall to potential sellers, but safety advocates say it’s not enough.
“Disclosure does not solve the danger,” said Jason Levine, executive director of the Center for Auto Safety. “Generally speaking, when the government sells you something, even if it discloses it, there is a general perception that it cannot be too dangerous. “
In a recent sale in Maryland, the News4 I-Team counted more than 30 of 166 cars on the auction block with open recalls, many of them reported for serious defects.
Among them: a 2012 Chevrolet Silverado with Takata airbags that pose a risk of explosion, sending shrapnel into its cabin, and a 2013 Hyundai Sonata recalled for faulty connecting rod bearings that could cause engine failure or a crash. fire.
At a previous sale in Maryland, the I-Team found a 2004 Chevy Impala being recalled for a faulty ignition switch that can cause airbags to not deploy – similar to a well-known defect that has led General Motors to recall millions of cars in 2014 and has been linked to more than 120 deaths.
Levine blasted the sale of GSA recalled vehicles as hypocritical, since the federal government – through the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration – is also responsible for issuing safety recalls to consumers.
“We have a government department that says these vehicles are dangerous – they should be recalled, they should be repaired – and this other government department that sells them to the public,” he said.
The GSA is not obligated to repair cars before selling them, and there is not always a cure available.
But selling them to the public poses a potentially dangerous problem not only to the buyer, but to any subsequent owner when the vehicle changes hands, according to a former NHTSA defect investigator.
“There may have been scenarios where the second and third owners are never notified of a recall,” said Frank Borris, the former head of the NHTSA Defect Investigation Bureau.
While leading this department, Borris oversaw thousands of recalls and said that even when car owners are notified, getting them to take their vehicle to a dealership for free repair can be a challenge.
“The sad reality is that many recalls can have completion rates as low as 25-30%, and this varies depending on the consumer’s perception of risk,” he said, later adding: “J ‘ve seen people injured and killed because of security flaws, which are preventable with free remedy.
Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi, an Illinois Democrat who chairs the House subcommittee on economic and consumer policy, introduced legislation that would ban the GSA from selling cars with open safety recalls.
He asked the GSA to develop a system for the agency to send affected cars to a dealership for repair before selling them to the public.
“I don’t understand why they wouldn’t want these cars fixed,” he said. “Maybe there are drawbacks associated with it, but it’s a drawback that they have to adapt. “
The GSA denied the I-Team’s request for maintenance and did not respond to specific questions about the review of its practice of selling recalled cars.
In a statement to the I-Team, a GSA spokesperson said, “Vehicle safety is a top priority for the GSA. For this reason, GSA prioritizes vehicle safety and maintains a strong recall management program. The GSA will continue to work with Congress and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration on ways to improve the recall process. “
In a 2020 letter to Congress, the GSA said about 25,000 cars from its employee fleet last year were being recalled, with an average of 620 cars with open safety recalls sold at auction. The agency also said it does not sell cars subject to “stop driving recalls,” in which “NHTSA or the manufacturer says the vehicles are no longer safe to drive because they pose a great risk. higher injury or death “.
The agency also defended the right to sell its vehicles, saying, “If agencies are not able to sell vehicles with recalls, it would negatively impact the GSA and other federal agencies by increasing funding. necessary to cover the investment costs of replacement vehicles for missionary activities.
But for Laura Christian, there is no mission more critical than saving lives. Her daughter, Amber, died in July 2005 when her Chevrolet Cobalt crashed into a tree and her airbags did not deploy. Amber was one of the first whose death was linked to a faulty GM ignition switch, and Christian became a well-known auto safety advocate in the wake of her death.
Selling cars that are still in need of repair “only puts off a buyer who may not even realize it’s important,” Christian said, adding, “It would be at no cost to the GSA, but it could all. cost the consumer.
Reported by Susan Hogan, produced by Katie Leslie, shot and edited by Lance Ing.