How to Avoid Buying a Recalled Used Car with Unfixed Problems

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With the large volume of recalls by General Motors and other automakers, used car shoppers may worry about buying a car with unfixed recall problems. Now the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has a tool that lets you check recall issues for specific cars before you buy.

The agency says that one in four recalled cars never get the necessary repair because owners did not receive notification or just did not take the time to go into a dealership, where recall work is free.

Now you can get the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) of any used car you are considering. (You can usually find it at the base of the windshield on the driver’s side.) Enter it into the NHTSA lookup tool. The NHTSA database will tell you if that specific car has had a recall in the last 15 years where the work was not completed.
You also will see a description of the recall issue and can judge its severity. The explanation will describe, for instance, if a defect involves the danger of runaway acceleration. But not all recall problems are as dangerous as that or the ignition-switch problems on GM cars like the Chevrolet Cobalt.

In most cases, you will want to avoid any cars with uncompleted recalls. However, if you particularly like that car otherwise and are willing to take it in for the recall yourself, you might use it as leverage to negotiate a better price.

Used car dealers in most locations are under no legal obligation to tell you about uncompleted recall work — the new NHTSA tool gives you a way to protect yourself.

And the new lookup page can help you another way: You can check your current car to see if there was a recall for which you somehow missed notification.

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