A CBC News investigation has found that some of the vehicles sitting on used-car lots have outstanding safety issues that should have been fixed but were not, because recall notices either didn’t reach the owner or were ignored.
"The problem is, year in and year out, about one in every three recalled vehicles is never corrected and the problem starts with people not getting the notice," George Iny of the Automobile Protection Association told CBC News.
The problem doesn’t end when a vehicle is brought to a dealer for resale.
The CBC visited nine used-car dealers across Canada and asked about vehicles with outstanding safety recalls. None of the salespeople volunteered information about the recalls.
The response of one Winnipeg auto dealer was typical. When asked about a 2000 Monte Carlo, the salesperson dismissed even the possibility of an outstanding recall.
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"Any recalls would have been pretty much done over the years. Given the year of the vehicle that it is. Recalls are usually the first two, that sort of thing," he told a CBC reporter who was posing as a customer.
Work not done
The vehicle had been recalled in 2009 because of an oil leak that could lead to engine fires, but the work was never done.
In another case, a salesperson checked a vehicle through CarProof, a Canadian-based vehicle history reporting service, and found no recall information. However, the vehicle did have an outstanding recall.
With 1.9 million safety recalls issued this year alone, a lot of vehicles are on the road and on sales lots with problems just waiting to be found.
Phil Barraclough of Corunna, Ont., discovered one of those problems in a used car he bought at a Sarnia, Ont., dealership. A year and a half after he was assured the car was safe, but six months later the headlights stopped working. So he took the car to a mechanic.
"He asked me if I smelled any burning, or any kind of smoke when I was in the car," he told CBC News, "I never did ever smell anything like that. But he showed me a little plastic piece, some type of connection for the wiring that was burned that he had to fix."
It turns out there had been a vehicle recall related to headlight problems in 2007, but the work had not been done.
"It could have been worse," Barraclough said, "I could have been driving at night with the kids. Something bad could have happened."
No protocol in place
The reason so many safety issues are falling through the cracks is that there is no protocol among dealers, government or manufacturers to ensure that safety fixes are actually done. Transport Canada says the law states owners must be notified, but research shows that doesn't always happen.
"The only time you [are required] to check is when a vehicle is imported from the U.S.," said the APA’s George Iny, "Then you have to make sure American recalls were done. But oddly enough, you don’t have to check that Canadian recalls were done."
'...The problem starts with people not getting the notice.' —George Iny, Automobile Protection Association
Iny says dealers should check for recalls, much in the same way they check to ensure there are no liens against vehicles. He says manufacturers should also be required to ensure the vehicle’s owner gets a recall notice, even if the auto has changed hands.
"Ultimately, the person who keeps records, sends notices, can evaluate the risks, is the manufacturer. And three out of 10 isn’t good enough," he complains.
Currently, it’s up to buyers and owners to ensure there are no outstanding safety recalls. That information can be found at the Transport Canada website.
For more information on the hidden-camera investigation, watch I-Team reporter Alex Freedman on CBC News Winnipeg at 5 p.m., 5:30 p.m. and 6 p.m.