(NEW YORK) -- Every year millions of recalled cars are sold to unsuspecting buyers without the needed repairs.
Vehicle history website Carfax just completed a study that shows that in 2012 just over two million unrepaired recalled vehicles were offered for sale online. But that's just online and just the sites Carfax catalogued, so the actual number is probably higher.
Carfax singled out Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Missouri and Wisconsin because its data shows the number of recalled vehicles for sale in those states has gone up 25 percent in the past year.
Carfax can tell that the vehicles have been recalled but not repaired because the Feds make recall notices for certain makes and models available. Manufacturers and dealers track the VIN numbers of the individual vehicles that are brought in for the needed fix.
The fact that recalled vehicles are offered for sale is bad news if you don't know it, but could be good news if you do. First, the bad: The very definition of a federal vehicle recall is that there is a safety problem with that make, model and year. So buying a car subject to an open recall could mean you're putting yourself and your family at risk.
On the other hand, if you know the car you are looking at has been recalled, you can use that as a bargaining chip in your price negotiations. You will be able to get the repair for free at a dealership, but you can haggle over the time you are going to have to spend.
"Before a car changes hands, there are lots of opportunities for everyone involved to check for open recalls," said Larry Gamache, communications director at Carfax. "Yet this data is proof that it's not happening enough."
Fortunately, it's easy to check. You can try the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's own website, though it's notoriously difficult to navigate. Here is where NHTSA posts recall summaries from the past six months. The government portal for broader vehicle safety information is www.SaferCar.gov.
However, an easier resource is the free recall check Carfax itself offers: recall.carfax.com. Another free resource about recalls and auto safety is the website of the nonprofit Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
Some legislators in California -- the state with the biggest population and the most cars -- are introducing legislation that would require sellers to repair recalled vehicles before selling them. Last year, California Sens. Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein sponsored federal legislation to require rental car companies to repair recalled vehicles before putting them on the road again.
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