FOX19 Investigates: Cars under recall sold in the Tri-State - Cincinnati News, FOX19-WXIX TV

FOX19 Investigates: Cars under recall being sold in the Tri-State

Bob Knotts looking into his burned van Bob Knotts looking into his burned van

More than 83,000 cars, trucks, and SUVs for sale online in Ohio last year may have had something seriously wrong with them. The sellers may have even known this. But in the Tri-State, they were under no legal obligation to let the buyer know.

Not in Ohio.

Not in Kentucky, where nearly 30,000 of them were for sale online.

And not in Indiana, where nearly 51,000 were being sold.

What do all of these vehicles have in common? All are under recall, meaning the manufacturer and the federal government have identified a problem that needs to be dealt with. Yet, according to Carfax, none of the defects had been fixed by a mechanic. Talk about the potential for a nightmare scenario.

For Bob Knotts, that nightmare scenario happened right in his driveway. He bought a used van that just burst into flames outside his home.

"It was just black," he said, "full of smoke!"

Turns out, Bob's van was one of 98,000 that had been recalled because of a wiring defect that could cause a fire. The used car dealer Bob bought it from never told him it had an unfixed recall.

"The whole thing was a complete loss for me," he said.

A study by Carfax found more than 2.7 million used vehicles listed for sale online in 2011 with at least one unfixed safety recall. It's a very serious issue because the federal government doesn't recall cars unless a defect could cause a serious risk to passengers in a car or others on the road.

"They're all serious," said Clarence Ditlow of the Center for Auto Safety. "They could cost you your life. They could cause a crash."

We went undercover to used car lots and easily found vehicles for sale that, according to car manufacturer websites, have unfixed recalls. There was an SUV with a defect that could make the engine stall and cause a crash. There was also a used car our team found with a defect that could cause the engine to shut off while it was being driven.

"They don't want to take them off their lot to get them fixed before they sell them because that customer is ready to buy it today and may, in fact, go to another used car dealer and buy a different vehicle," Ditlow said.

There's no federal law requiring used car dealers --- or private sellers --- to tell buyers about unfixed recalls. Our team specifically checked the laws in Ohio, Kentucky, and Indiana just to be sure it's the same here, too.

The two main used car dealers' trade associations wouldn't appear on camera. But they did issue statements.

The National Independent Automobile Dealers Association told us it "encourages used vehicle dealers to repair the open-recall before selling the vehicle to a customer… and at a minimum disclose it…" 

Certainly not all used car dealers hide this from you. Experts say some of them really do go the extra mile.

"Many dealers will bring a used car up to speed on its recalls before they sell it. And actually if they do, it's a sign they take really good care of their cars and really good care of their customers," said Jeannine Fallon of Edmunds. 

The other trade group we contacted, the National Automobile Dealers Association, said the onus is on vehicle owners and used car buyers to get recalls fixed. 

"To improve safety, the National Automobile Dealers Association urges vehicle owners to have recalled vehicles fixed as soon as possible," the group's statement said.

Bob, who bought the van that burst into flames, says he now wants to warn others since sellers aren't required to warn you.

"What happened to me," he said, "…could have happened to someone else."

He eventually bought another used van.

You can enter a car's vehicle identification number, or VIN, online to see if it's part of a recall. Some used car ads list them. Then, take that VIN and enter it online to see if it's under recall and if that specific vehicle has been fixed. Carfax offers the service for free, as does the Center for Auto Safety.

In addition, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's website allows you to sign-up for automatic notifications of recalls affecting your family's vehicles as well as tires and child safety seats.

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