Gephardt: How to make sure the used car you're eyeing is safe to drive

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SALT LAKE CITY – If you knew a car for sale was dangerous to drive, you probably wouldn't buy it. Yet vehicle reporting firm Carfax estimated 1 in 5 cars in Utah right now has at least one unfixed safety recall – and many of those cars are on used car lots.

But people selling those cars don't have to warn you about an open recall – even if it's life-threatening.

"Utah has 559,000 vehicles on the road with an open recall," Emilie Voss of Carfax told KSL.

U.S. automakers recalled millions of cars last year for issues ranging from seat belts not latching and fire risks to faulty suspensions and dangerous airbags. Voss said if any of those recalled cars happen to be on a used-car lot right now, shoppers likely have no idea they need to be fixed.

They are on their own.

"There is actually federal law that prohibits a new car being sold with an open recall, but that is not the case with a used car," she explained.

That's right — there is no requirement that a car dealer or an individual seller fix the recalls before unloading a used car onto someone else. They don't even have to disclose it.

So, how do you know if the car you've got your eye on has a recall on it?

"Grab the VIN number and you can check it for free – just like any car owner can check recalls for free," said Voss.

Grab the VIN number and you can check it for free – just like any car owner can check recalls for free.

–Emilie Voss, Carfax

Then look the VIN up on or on, and in seconds you'll know if that car needs a recall repair.

Not all dealers will sell used cars with unfixed recalls, so Voss said you should ask if they do take care of recalls. Even if they do fix recalls, she recommends always checking a used car for open recalls before buying it. Getting a recalled issue fixed should be free, as the car's manufacturer should pick up the tab.


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Matt Gephardt
Matt Gephardt has worked in television news for more than 20 years, and as a reporter since 2010. He is now a consumer investigative reporter for KSL TV. You can find Matt on Twitter at @KSLmatt or email him at
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