Who Is Responsible for Safety Defects in When a Consumer Buys a Used Car? | DENENA | POINTS

Who Is Responsible for Safety Defects in When a Consumer Buys a Used Car?

Every year millions of used vehicles are sold by dealers to consumers who may have no idea that their used car or truck has a safety defect.  While there are extensive regulations for disclosure of defects to original buyers, those who buy used cars are on their own when it comes to discovering and repairing possible safety hazards.

A Used Car Buyer Is Killed By an Undisclosed Defect in a Used Car

Recently, the buyer of a used Honda was killed when the airbag exploded sending a piece of metal into his neck.  He had no idea that the car he bought had one of the now infamous Takata airbags, which have been recalled globally for safety reasons.  There are other instances of these airbags causing death to owners who were unaware that the used car they bought had the same defective airbag installed.

This further solidifies the poor reputation that many used car dealers have when it comes to their trade, but in this case it resulted in the tragic death of a customer.  The fact that the death could have been prevented by a simple disclosure must have been less important to the dealer than simply closing the sale.

No Federal Regulations Requiring Used Car Dealers to Repair or Disclose Defects

The used car dealer has no responsibility under federal law to either repair defects or even disclose to buyers that there may have been a recall.  This same lenient policy extends to rental car companies who often sell their aging fleet on the used car market.  Of course, disclosing to a customer that a vehicle has a life threatening safety defect would definitely make it harder to sell, and would affect the re-sale value for the dealer.  At the very least, they would have to repair the defect to make the vehicle safe.

Used car buyers are on their own when it comes to researching any open recalls on the car they plan to purchase.  There are databases available where a consumer can check the recall status of any make and model of vehicle, and it continues to be the buyer’s responsibility to find out about the defect that the used car dealer may be concealing.  However, a used car dealer cannot be shielded from any responsibility just because there are other ways to discover the defect.

Establishing Liability of Used Car Dealers Who Have Knowledge of Defects

There is a pending lawsuit against the used car dealer, and it does pose an interesting legal question of liability.  Even absent federal regulations requiring disclosure of defects, there could be some basis for a negligence suit if the used car dealer had knowledge of the defect, but failed to tell the buyer.

This duty goes beyond the simple mechanical or historical information about a used car, since many defects can pose a threat of injury or death to unsuspecting buyers.  Simply, if the dealer knew of a life-threatening defect and failed to tell the buyer, then they might be found liable for any injuries that could have been prevented by disclosure of the problem.