The Investigators: Recalls for sale

By Andy Wise - bio | email

MEMPHIS (WMC TV) - The Action News 5 Investigators found used vehicles with significant safety defects for sale on the lots of two Mid-South auto dealerships.

Acting on a tip, our undercover producers shopped vehicles for sale at Regal Motors, 2496 Mt. Moriah Rd., and JR's Auto Sales, 3279 Summer Ave.  Both are Better Business Bureau accredited dealerships with good ratings (Regal Motors carries an "A" rating; JR's Auto Sales, a "B").

We ran the vehicle identification numbers (VIN #) of five vehicles in the dealerships' inventories through three categories of databases:  the manufacturers' recall databases, the Internet Auto Guide and Carfax.

Found at Regal Motors:

1996 Ford Explorer, Eddie Bauer edition (1FMDU34X6TUA99107), Speed Control System Recall, Risk of Vehicle Fire

2000 Ford Explorer XLT (1FMZU83P2YZA12432), Driver Seat Recliner Bolt Recall, Seat Could Slip; Driver May Not Be Able To Reach Steering Wheel/Pedals

Found at JR's Auto Sales:

1999 Ford Expedition (1FMRU1761XLC13569) & 2000 Ford Explorer XLS (1FMZU72X1YZB25204), Speed Control Deactivation Switch Recall; Risk of Overheating, Smoking or Burning

1997 Mercury Mountaineer (4M2DU55P7VUJ43529), Speed Control System Recall, Fire Risk

John Stanley, Regal Motors's sales manager, said he doesn't regularly check online databases for recalls in his inventory.

He said the manufacturers typically mail him the recall notices. But Regal Motors is unlikely to receive a recall notice on a vehicle if it is not the original title-holder of that vehicle. Many of his dealership's vehicles have had multiple owners.

"Generally, (manufacturers) are real good about sending us those in the mail, and when we get one, we send it right over (for recall repairs)," said Stanley. "I'm glad you brought this to our attention."

"We buy our vehicles from auctions, from the other wholesalers," said Lisa Brock, president of JR's Auto Sales, "but nowhere along the line are we told there's a recall on the vehicle."

The dealers aren't supposed to be told. They're supposed to do their homework.

"They're just a little bit lazy," said Ted Archer of auto dealerships that don't conduct their own online recall checks. Archer owns and operates Archer's Auto Care, 4471 S. Mendenhall Rd.

"They don't want to take the time to spend five minutes to ten minutes per car, researching it on the Internet," he said.

Archer also said everyone in the automotive industry has access to an Identifix machine or software/hardware comparable to it. Connected to a vehicle's computer system, it can not only diagnose problems with the vehicle, but also access its document history.

"Technical service bulletins and outstanding recalls that might apply to the vehicle you're working on," Archer said. "(It's available to) anyone who wants to pay for the service."

By the time the Action News 5 Investigators alerted the dealerships to the recall histories of their vehicles, they had sold three of them. Both managers said they had been sold to either wholesalers or auctions.

Action News 5 asked Adesa Auto Auction, the largest auto auction in the Mid-South at 5400 Getwell Rd., for an interview about how it checks its inventory for recalls.

Darci Valentine, Adesa's corporate communications manager, declined our request "...per the executive vice president and general counsel of (Adesa's) holding company."

Stanley immediately transported the recalled vehicle remaining on his lot, the 1996 Ford Explorer, to Dobbs Ford on Mt. Moriah to arrange for its recall repair.

Brock withheld the Expedition remaining on her lot from a planned auction in order to address its recall. She said she's also changed JR's Auto Sales's policy to check every vehicle for open recalls and to disclose them to her customers.

"We are more aware of it now, and we're making changes," she said. "The buyer needs to be aware of what they're trying to buy."

When you're shopping a used car, find a car you're interested in, but hold off on making a deal. First, jot down its VIN # (on the dashboard on the driver's side or on the frame inside the driver's-side door).

Run it through:

* THE MANUFACTURER'S RECALL DATABASE (Ford, Toyota, etc.). Each of the auto manufacturers' web sites allows buyers to check a VIN # against open recalls. Just Google the manufacturer's site and follow its site map to its recall database.

* THE INTERNET AUTO GUIDE: This guide provides a very simple, drill-down method that will lead you to the actual recall campaign's letter. It includes the description of the potential safety threat of the vehicle.

* CARFAX: Carfax provides free access to open recall information by VIN #. For a subscription fee, consumers can access vehicles' title histories.

* NATIONAL HIGHWAY TRAFFIC SAFETY ADMINISTRATION: This is the federal government's database of auto safety recalls.

If you discover the vehicle has an open recall, alert the dealer. If the dealer tells you the recall repair has been done, ask to see the repair invoice or another document that proves the work has been completed.

Copyright 2010 WMC-TV. All rights reserved.