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UPDATED: 1/24/2017 Dangerous cars driving on our roads. Recalled cars don’t get fixed by drivers even though they should. How to find out if your car has a recalled part.

Why recalled cars are not fixed

Every recall is a safety hazard, so drivers need to pay attention. However, most recalls don’t get fixed. Even with the dangerous Takata recall, the biggest in U.S. history, cars are not getting repaired.

Wrong addresses, unwilling consumers, and slow recall processes are all to blame for low response rates to recalls. It often takes months, even years, to get parts for recalls. When the economy collapsed in the mid 200s, the auto industry consolidated including parts makers. As a result, it takes longer for car makers to get replacement parts. Sometimes a temporary fix is possible, like disengaging a part. However, with Takata airbags, there is no fix. You need an airbag in a car.

The law is also a problem. New cars can’t be sold with an open recall, but there is no law for used cars. I’ve investigated auto dealers who sell cars with open recalls. Salesmen told me they didn’t know the car has a recalled part. Other dealers told us it’s the consumer’s responsibility to get the car fixed.

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) wants NHTSA to implement a centralized database that allows consumers to search by VIN. NHTSA bought the software program to make this happen, but told the GAO that it would need significantly more resources to implement the program.

How to get alerted to auto safety recalls

If used car dealers are not going to tell you about open safety recalls, drivers need to ask questions before they buy a car. That way you don’t spend hours on the phone or hours sitting at the dealership getting the recall fixed, if it’s fixable.

  1. Sign up for email alerts

    Whether you are in the market for a car or not, you can sign up for email alerts from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to keep tabs on all the recalls or on up to five specific cars. This will keep your family safe in your own car.

  2. Get a CARFAX report

    If you’re buying a car, check the vehicle history. Many car dealers offer free CARFAX reports on their website. If the car lot doesn’t offer this service, ask for a Carfax report. Many will provide you with one. If that doesn’t work, explore other options or pay the money to buy one yourself.

    While Carfax charges for a full vehicle history report, you can do a free recall check.

    Don’t rely soley on a Carfax report. It’s only as good as the information feeding it. In my investigation, I found a computer issue with the data one manufacturer was sending Carfax.

  3. Search by VIN number

    You can also go to the manufacturer’s website to search for recalls. Ford, Chrysler, Toyota, and Honda offer free vehicle identification number (VIN) searches on their site. Other manufacturers require a login approval.

  4. Search National Highway Traffic Safety Administration database

    Another option is to search the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s website, Safercar.gov. You can’t search by VIN, but can search by make, model, and component. You shouldn’t rely on this as a primary source either, because some makes and models are recalled based on the VIN not the make or model.

While paperwork is a good resource, always back it up with a mechanical inspection. This will cost you less than $100, and many mechanics say it is a free service for good clients. The small investment can save you thousands of dollars.