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Used car dealers don’t have to tell you about unrepaired safety recalls

While it’s illegal for dealerships to sell new cars with open safety recalls, they can legally sell used cars with open safety recalls.

TAMPA, Fla. — Exploding airbags shooting shrapnel at drivers. Cars catching on fire. Brakes failing.

This isn’t a preview for “Final Destination 6.”

These are real problems happening to real drivers because they bought used cars with open safety recalls.

While it’s illegal for dealerships to sell new cars with open safety recalls, they can legally sell used cars with open safety recalls.

And dealerships don’t even have to tell you.

“It makes me sick:” Tampa woman goes to court after airbag explosion

Tiffany Vu said she was driving to the gym in 2016 when she got into what should have been a minor crash.

“And then that’s when the airbag exploded… The whole front of my steering wheel was gone and all you could see was, like, metal barbed wire — like, the metal in a fence sticking out. And then I couldn’t hear anything because it perforated both my ear drums,” Vu saud. “There was blood shooting like a fountain out of my hand where the nerve was severed from the metal that blew out.”

She said the airbag explosion sounded like a bomb going off.

“I was an Olympic weightlifter for a long time… I was state champion for my weight class for six years,” Vu said. “I just remember being like, OK, I’m never going to lift again.”

According to Vu’s lawsuit the next year, a Tampa dealership didn’t tell her a Honda Accord was under recall when she bought it used in 2014.

“I think it’s so unethical and it makes me sick,” she said.

Court records say Vu settled with that dealership and TK Holdings Inc. — which designed, made, and sold Takata airbags — in 2018.

Vu not only went back to lifting, she won nationals for her weight class in 2017.

“Yeah, it was crazy, like, not being able to work out for a month-and-a-half because [the airbag] severed a nerve in my hand. So, I couldn’t even grip the barbell. So, I was just happy to be able to go to nationals, much less win,” Vu said.

Cars for sale across Tampa Bay area with open safety recalls

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, there are still at least 9.3 million vehicles with unrepaired Takata airbag recalls nationwide, as of July 29.

Long-term exposure to high heat and humidity makes those airbags more likely to blow up.

Florida ranks third in the country on unrepaired Takata airbag recalls, with at least 392,700 vehicles that haven’t been fixed.

It didn’t take 10 Investigates long to find dozens of used cars, trucks and SUVs for sale with open safety recalls at dealerships across the Tampa Bay area.

We found defects that can cause your airbags to explode, your rear-view camera to become foggy or start a fire in your engine compartment.

Those vehicles were for sale at a wide range of price points – from a 2003 car selling for $3,000 to a 2022 truck going for $80,000.

“The government knows, the dealer knows that there is a problem with the car,” said Bill Newton, deputy director of the Florida Consumer Action Network. “The auto manufacturers have agreed that it needs to be fixed. But yet, they’re sitting on these lots [with] big for sale signs on them.”

There’s no federal or Florida law preventing dealers from selling used cars with open safety recalls.

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'Do a little bit of homework'

Ejola Cook is the Executive Director of the Florida Independent Automobile Dealers Association, which represents our state’s used car dealers.

“That stuff is readily available. There has to be a certain onus put on a buyer,” Cook said. “For most people, their car is either their largest or second largest purchase they’re going to make. Do a little bit of homework before you go in and you buy that car.”

Cook told 10 Investigates that supply chain issues can sometimes make it impossible for used car dealers to replace a recalled part right away.

She also said independent used car dealers don’t have the same access to parts that the franchise dealerships do.

“Parts are not always readily available. And, sometimes, you’ll see a recall and it’ll say it’s six months for the part, eight months for the part, or they don’t even have a date or a time certain to get a repair,” Cook said.

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Bill to end this practice sitting untouched since 2021

In May 2021, Sen. Richard Blumenthal introduced a bill called the Used Car Safety Recall Repair Act.

It would require used car dealers nationwide to ensure open safety recalls are repaired before used cars are sold, leased or loaned to drivers.

It’s been sitting untouched in committee for nearly a year and a half.

“I’m frustrated. I’m angry that it hasn’t passed, but I’m going to continue fighting for it,” said Blumenthal, a Democrat from Connecticut.

10 Investigates reporter Jenna Bourne asked Blumenthal what specific steps he plans to take to continue fighting for the Used Car Safety Recall Repair Act.

“I’m going to mobilize even more effectively some of the safety groups, advocates, activists, and reach out to the American public – as we’re doing right now,” Blumenthal said. “If it doesn’t pass this session, between now and the end of the year, I’m going to reintroduce it early next year.”

Florida Sen. Rick Scott, a Republican, is on the committee where this bill has been sitting around.

We’ve been trying to get him to meet up with us for nearly two months to talk about it.

How to check any car for safety recalls

We don’t want to scare you. We want to empower you.

Here’s how you can check any vehicle for recalls – whether you’re thinking about buying it or you’ve been driving it for years.

The first step is the find the Vehicle Identification Number or VIN.

Many dealers post VINs in their online ads.

You can also find the VIN in person when you’re inspecting a car or taking it for a test drive. You will find it on the dashboard in front of the steering wheel, right above where it meets your windshield.

Credit: 10 Tampa Bay

You can search for that VIN on nhtsa.gov/recalls or the SaferCar app. Those tools will tell you details of any open safety recalls on that car in the past 15 years.

If there’s an unrepaired safety recall, the manufacturer has to fix it for free.

You can also sign up for emailed recall alerts on your car so you don’t miss future recalls.

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