Buying a used car can be nerve-wracking. Unless you are an expert when it comes to assessing automobiles, trying to figure out whether a vehicle is safe, reliable, and a good buy can push some folks into recalculating their finances, shrugging, and driving to the nearest new car dealership instead.
Car dealers know that buying used makes the average person nervous, so they came up with the idea of a “certified pre-owned” car (CPO). The CPO designation, ideally, should mean that a used car has been inspected, repaired if necessary, and sold with full disclosure regarding previous accidents and safety recalls.
Unfortunately, it turns out that the pasts of CPO cars are not as transparent as we would hope they would be, partly because of a decision made by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in December, 2016. It turns out that General Motors (GM) and two large used-car chains were given permission to claim that their used vehicles were thoroughly inspected and repaired, even when the vehicles might still need to be fixed because of unrepaired defects arising from safety recalls.
In fact, the only requirements would be to inform buyers that vehicles might be subject to safety recalls and to provide buyers with directions on how to track down whether any recalls exist. Federal law does not require the sending of recall notices for used cars, even CPO ones.
After the FTC’s ruling, consumer groups strongly objected that used car dealers had been given too much latitude when it came to required disclosures about the condition and background of the car. Rosemary Shahan, the president of Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety, one of the groups that had been lobbying for months against the settlement, stated after the ruling, “It is the worst thing the F.T.C. has ever done on any issue because it is allowing false advertising.”
If you’re wondering whether too much fuss has been made over the FTC’s decision, consider the Takata airbags scandal, with 11 dead and over a hundred injured in the U.S. alone. Now think about the fact that a used car dealership would not be required to tell you whether the car you are thinking of buying has a deadly airbag in it, or some other dangerous defect. If someone has certified a car as fully repaired and safe, wouldn’t you want them to tell you the whole truth?
Therefore, Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety, along with five other organizations, filed a lawsuit against the FTC in February, 2017. The suit aims to prevent used cars from being advertised as either safe or certified when in fact they could be part of a safety recall.
Until this suit is resolved, keep in mind that a CPO vehicle is not necessarily free of defects or safety risks. You should look up any vehicle identification number (VIN) online to determine whether the car or truck you plan to buy has any open recalls against it. And it’s always a good idea to have any used vehicle, CPO or not, inspected by an independent mechanic before you buy it.