WASHINGTON -- Used car dealers may be selling cars and trucks that have been recalled but not repaired because manufacturers don't send them the same recall notifications that are sent to franchised dealers, a study by a government watchdog said.
Even if used car dealers or franchised dealers know of a recall, there is no requirement that they tell prospective buyers or make the repairs before a sale, the Government Accountability Office study released this week said.
Nor does the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which oversees auto safety, have the power to order dealers to make the repairs or to warn buyers.
The safety administration also lacks the authority to require automakers to inform used car dealers of recalls.
The situation "could pose a significant risk to the safety of millions of vehicle drivers and may have a negative impact on recall completion rates," the study said. "Many consumers may be unknowingly putting their lives at risk by purchasing a defective vehicle."
More than 35 million used cars were sold in 2009, including 11 million sold by used car dealers.
Used car dealers told investigators that part of the problem is that there is no database that they can check using a vehicle identification number -- which all cars and trucks have -- to see if there are recall-related repairs for that vehicle that haven't been made, the report said.
NHTSA estimates an average of 70 percent of repairs are made within 18 months of a recall. However, investigators said the average from 2000 to 2008 was 65 percent. The average also varied substantially from year to year.
It also varies significantly by manufacturer. Some manufacturers had a better than 90 percent average repair record for recalled vehicles, but at least one manufacturer averaged only 23 percent fixed and another 53 percent. The report didn't identify the manufacturers.
The study recommends the safety administration make its vehicle recall database searchable by vehicle identification numbers and ask Congress to give it the authority to ensure car buyers are notified of recalls prior to sales.