How to Buy a Used Car in an Age of Widespread Recalls

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The New York Times
January 27, 2017

For people in the market for a used car, the “certified pre-owned” designation has long been the gold standard, an indication that a qualified mechanic has vouched for the car and that a buyer can expect a vehicle that is — hopefully — almost as good as new.

But the Takata airbag recall, which is the biggest in history, has upended all of that. Now the certified designation — known in the auto trade as C.P.O. — will no longer necessarily have the same meaning. For one thing, last month the Federal Trade Commission made it easier for cars to be billed as “certified,” even if they were under recall and hadn’t been fixed yet.
And just as significantly, Ford — with the F.T.C. settlement for cover — told its dealers this week that they could sell recalled vehicles and certify them too, so long as they did not advertise them as “safe” and required buyers to sign forms acknowledging that they were aware of the problem.

Against this backdrop, one dealer in Florida has refused to sell recalled vehicles that he cannot get fixed, letting 100 or so pile up on a lot miles from his main showroom. He even sued a rival who he believes is selling recalled cars without disclosing that they have not been fixed yet.

How did the used-car market get so confusing all of a sudden? For starters, the Takata airbag recall is unprecedented in its scope, with over 60 million airbags affected, but also in its complexity. Dealers can’t simply fix everything at once, because there are not enough replacement parts. As a result, the airbags most likely to cause harm are first in line for repair, and the lines for existing recalls and others to come may extend for at least a few more years.

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