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Recalled auto parts can be replaced, our lives cannot

FTC proposal would allow unrepaired cars to be sold
Deirdre Cummings and Sean Kane

One month after Anton Yelchin’s death on June 19, Star Trek producer J.J. Abrams announced that Yelchin’s character, Pavel Chekov, will not be recast in the next film in the series, calling him “irreplaceable.”

Anton Yelchin was killed at age 27 when his 2015 Jeep Grand Cherokee rolled down his driveway, crushing him against his brick mailbox pillar. The Jeep had a transmission defect so dangerous the manufacturer, Fiat Chrysler, had issued a safety recall. Sadly, the repairs were not even available at the time of Yelchin’s death. While the exact cause is still being investigated, his tragic loss is a stark reminder why cars with unrepaired safety recalls have no place on our roads.

Vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death and serious injury among America’s children, teenagers and young adults. In addition to the immeasurable grief and pain they cause, they also cost our nation over $277 billion annually. Despite the risks, some car dealers knowingly sell defective, recalled used cars. CarMax, for example, the largest retailer of used cars in the nation, routinely sells recalled cars without getting them repaired for free. CarMax simultaneously advertises all their cars passed a rigorous “125+ point inspection” and qualified to be sold as “CarMax Quality Certified” vehicles, creating the false impression they are safe.

In 2015, MASSPIRG Education Fund, the Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety Foundation, and The Safety Institute discovered that 17 percent of cars for sale at a CarMax in North Attleboro — 42 out of 243 — had unrepaired safety recalls. Similar investigations found between 9 and 19 percent of cars for sale on CarMax lots in Connecticut and California had unrepaired safety recalls. Several vehicles had faulty transmissions that could allow the vehicle to roll away and injure people exiting the car or injure bystanders — similar to the defect that killed Anton Yelchin.

Massachusetts Sen. Edward Markey, a leading champion for protecting consumers from the sale of dangerous cars, and Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal authored a bill to make it a violation of federal law, enforceable by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, for dealers to sell unrepaired recalled used cars. So far, it has not been enacted. However, laws in all 50 states prohibit dealers from deliberately or negligently selling unsafe products.

Consumers who purchase used cars from auto dealers should not have to worry they will become victims of “recalled used car roulette.” All safety recalls are serious, and the defects should be repaired before resale to a consumer, especially when the car is advertised as a safe, pre-inspected, “certified” car.

But if the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has its way, the problem will only get worse. The agency has proposed settlements with General Motors and two automotive dealerships chains that would allow them to engage in such high-risk, deceptive practices. If finalized, the proposed settlements would allow car dealers to advertise that recalled vehicles are “safe,” have been “repaired for safety,” and “passed a rigorous inspection,” even when the dealers fail to get the safety defects repaired, if the dealers merely disclose that the cars may be subject to a safety recall.

Consumer and safety organizations across the country oppose the FTC's proposed settlements. Sens. Markey and Blumenthal, as well as Sens. Chuck Schumer of New York, Dick Durbin of Illinois, and Bill Nelson of Florida also blasted the deal as “anti-consumer” and “anti-safety.”

No other federal agency explicitly allows retailers to sell recalled products, with or without “disclosure,” unless the product has been made safe. If confirmed, the FTC’s proposed settlements would set a new, devastatingly harmful precedent.

Unsafe, defective recalled cars should be repaired, and can be repaired at no cost to the dealer, but lives are irreplaceable. Just ask Anton Yelchin's family, co-workers, and fans.

Deirdre Cummings is the legislative director of MASSPIRG, a statewide nonprofit, non- partisan consumer advocacy organization. Sean Kane is the founder and president of The Safety Institute, a 501 c 3 nonprofit organization that emphasizes injury prevention and product safety based in Rehoboth.


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