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Monday, 16 February 2015 00:00

TX Man and FL Woman Dead After Independent Airbag Explosions; No Recall Advice for Used Car Buyers

Unadvertised safety defects can make buying a used car in America a dangerous decision. Carlos Solis died in January 2015 after the airbag in a used car he bought last year from a Texas dealer exploded, sending a piece of metal into his neck, reported Hiroko Tabuchi, Mr. Solis, 35, was not aware when he bought the vehicle that its airbags could be defective and had been recalled, according to a lawsuit filed by his family on January 26.

A New York Times review of other vehicles listed online by the dealer, All Stars Auto Sales in Cypress, TX, shows that close to half of those cars have also been recalled for safety defects, but have not been repaired.

Federal laws do not require used-car dealers to repair vehicles with safety defects before putting the cars back into public use, and dealers do not have to disclose to customers that a vehicle is the subject of a recall, reported Tabuchi. Congress has been presented with legislation to change this, but no progress has been made.

Consumers are left on their own to check whether a used vehicle has been recalled for a safety defect by either purchasing a vehicle history report from a vendor like Carfax or running their vehicle identification numbers through an automobile website or federal safety database.

After a year of record recalls over faulty General Motors ignitions and Takata airbags, used cars with recalls continue to be sold to unknowing buyers.

Hien Tran, 51, is yet another suspected victim of an airbag rupture in Florida. She did not know that the used 2001 Honda Accord she bought from a dealer a year earlier had open recalls, her family told Tabuchi. She died after her Takata-made airbag ruptured in an accident in September, sending metal shards into her face and neck, Tabuchi reported after speaking with local authorities.

Mr. Solis's death on Jan. 18, caused the Takata airbag in his 2002 Honda Accord, was the sixth fatal accident worldwide linked to the faulty airbags. His passenger, an 11-year-old girl, was not injured.Despite the death, All Stars Auto Sales continues to sell cars with defects. Of the 33 used cars listed on the dealership's online inventory, 15 have open recalls, reported Tabuchi. Two of those — a 2005 Honda Accord and a 2006 Ram pickup — are under recall over Takata’s airbag defect but have not been fixed, according to a search of the cars’ vehicle information numbers in a federal database.

At least five more cars in the dealer’s inventory, including a 2006 Chevy Cobalt and a 2005 Pontiac Grand Am, are under recall for defective ignition switches but have not been fixed, according to the database. A sixth car with a faulty ignition switch, a 2006 Chevy Impala, is marked on the dealer’s website as sold. Other defects in cars listed in the inventory include problems with the crankshaft and brake lights.

A dealer representative who declined to identify herself told Tabuchi she could not talk about individual sales, but did confirm that the online inventory was up to date. Her manager could not be reached for comment.

The Accord that All Stars Auto Sales sold Mr. Solis had two previous owners, both registered in Texas, according to a vehicle history compiled by Carfax. The original owner sold the vehicle in 2011, according to the Carfax report, the same year Honda first recalled that model over defective airbags.

A Honda spokesman, Chris Martin, told Tabuchi the automaker had sent multiple recall notices to previous owners, starting in 2011. And though the car was later included in a new recall, in June of last year, Honda had not yet mailed a recall notice to Mr. Solis, Martin added.

In Congress, lawmakers have introduced bills that would require used-car dealers and rental companies to fix recalled cars before they are put back into public use. But those measures, which auto dealers oppose, have stalled. Most major rental companies, though, now say that they voluntarily fix recalled vehicles.

A National Highway Traffic Safety Administration spokesperson told Tabuchi it will again push for Congress to prohibit used-car dealerships from selling vehicles with an open recall and the rental of vehicles with an open recall.

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