After the spate of Toyota recalls for product safety defects, the Congress requested that the Government Accounting Office (GAO) perform an analysis of the effectiveness of vehicle defect recalls.  In June 2011, the GAO issued its report (http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d11603.pdf) which makes key findings and recommendations.  Among those is this important point:

Under federal law, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) cannot require used-car dealers (or franchised dealerships that sell used vehicles) to notify potential buyers of an outstanding safety defect or require that they get the defect remedied prior to sale.  A result is that in some instances, a used-car dealer may not be aware that an outstanding safety defect exists in a vehicle. In particular, GAO reported that “a used-vehicle dealer association with over 20,000 members told us that because used dealers do not have a franchise agreement with the manufacturers, they do not receive the defect notices that manufacturers send to franchised dealers.  Moreover, used-car dealers we spoke with told us that generally they do not receive defect notices from manufacturers, except in certain cases, such as when a used dealer purchases previously leased vehicles directly from a manufacturer.”

Because of this finding by GAO, it is important for consumers to know that NHTSA provides the public with guidance and information on safety recalls, primarily through its Web site, www.safercar.gov. On the Web site, NHTSA maintains a database in which the public can search for safety recalls by entering year, make, and model of a vehicle. The agency’s Web site also provides basic guidance on what to do in the event of a safety recall. For example, the Web site offers guidance to vehicle owners about what to do if they do not receive a recall notification letter but believe that their vehicle may be affected by a recall.  GAO also recommended to NHTSA that it seek legislative authority to notify potential used car buyers of recalls. The Highway Safety Administration does not require manufacturers to inform used car dealers of recalls. Millions may unknowingly risk their lives by purchasing used, defective vehicles.