Can You Sell a Car With an Open Recall?

An alarming 46 million cars in the United States have an open recall that’s never been fixed, according to a report by Carfax. Electrical faults, overheating, defective airbags, and engine problems are common issues. The highly publicized Takata airbag debacle saw faulty airbags exploding and injuring over 100 people and causing the deaths of 11. It also put the spotlight on the issue of motor vehicle recalls.

How Do Open Recalls Impact Dealerships?

Can You Sell a Car With an Open Recall?

Image via Flickr by automobileitalia

Recalls are handled differently by the law depending on whether the car is new or used.

New Cars

According to federal law, dealerships are not allowed to sell a new vehicle with an open recall. All franchised dealers of new vehicles with an open recall are required to remove them from the lot until the recall repairs are completed.

Used Cars

On the flip side, used car dealerships are not legally obliged to remove an unrepaired car from the market. It’s a perplexing loophole in the law. Surely, logic dictates that the law should apply to both new and used cars in the interest of public safety. This discrepancy is contentious, as it allows dealerships the option to disclose this fact to unsuspecting buyers, which is ultimately dangerous to all road users should they choose not to disclose. It also opens the dealership to post-sale liabilities should any accidents occur after the car is sold.

What About Individual Sellers?

Private sales are regulated even less. An individual selling a car with an unrepaired recall defect has no legal obligation to disclose this during a private sale. It boils down to honesty. If the seller is honest, he or she will disclose the fault to the buyer. Sellers are, of course, well aware that this may make it more difficult to sell the car. To help make the sale more attractive, the seller can opt to knock down the price so that the buyer can use the money they’re saving on the sale to fix the problem. Again, this is a tricky situation, as the buyer may decide not to fix it, resulting in yet another unsafe vehicle out on the roads.

How to Check if a Vehicle Has Been Recalled

Given the risk that comes with buying a used car, it is in every buyer’s best interest to check if a car has an open recall. It’s easy enough to check. Locate the vehicle identification number (VIN) on the car, usually found on the corner of the dashboard where it meets the windshield or in the door jamb. Then go to or and type in the VIN. Alternatively, download the app myCARFAX available for Apple and Android smartphones that keep you updated by sending alerts on any recalls for your brand of car. Car manufacturers issue recalls for a reason, often because of a fault with a safety feature. That makes the 46 million unrepaired vehicles out there a chilling thought. To increase safety on the roads, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration strongly advises all dealers to check for open recalls on their used vehicles before selling them.