CALPIRG Education Fund, CARS Foundation release report on CarMax’s sales of unrepaired recalled cars and urge crackdown by CA Attorney General Kamala Harris and Department of Motor Vehicles

CALPIRG Education Fund

SACRAMENTO / OXNARD – CALPIRG Education Fund and the Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety (CARS) Foundation today released results of research into CarMax’s sales of unsafe, defective recalled cars in California, and called upon California Attorney General Kamala Harris and the California Department of Motor Vehicles to protect the public from CarMax’s sales of unrepaired, defective vehicles that are subject to federal safety recalls.

“CarMax is playing recalled car roulette with its customers’ lives, and endangering the safety of others who share the roads,” said Rosemary Shahan, President of the CARS Foundation, a Sacramento-based non-profit educational and auto safety research organization.

CALPIRG researchers found that during a 48-hour period, 10% of the vehicles CarMax offered for sale in Oxnard, CA, and 9% of the vehicles CarMax offered for sale in South Sacramento, CA, were subject to federal safety recalls due to unrepaired defects including:

  • Catching on fire
  • Faulty anti-lock brakes
  • Hoods that fly up while the car is being driven
  • Seat belts that may not provide adequate protection in a crash
  • Air bags that may not inflate when needed in a crash
  • Cruise control that may not disengage when the driver brakes
  • Rolling away while unattended 

“We all have a stake in seeing that CarMax ensures that the cars it sells are safe to drive, and gets all unrepaired safety recalls fixed prior to selling cars to consumers,” said Jason Pfeifle, Acting Program Director of CALPIRG Education Fund, a consumer group that works to advance the public interest through research, policy analysis, and citizen outreach.

When a dealer sells a used car that is unsafe, the buyers may not have time to get it repaired before tragedy strikes. This is particularly true when there are not enough repair parts or skilled automotive technicians to meet demand, as millions of vehicles are being recalled because of problems such as exploding Takata air bags that blind or kill drivers and front-seat passengers. It may take months before those defective air bags can be replaced.

The groups pointed out that in the tragic crash that led to the recall of millions of defective Toyotas, CHP officer Mark Saylor, his wife Cleofe Lastrella, their 13-year-old daughter Mahala, and his brother-in-law Chris Lastrella were all killed the same day, within hours of when a dealer handed Mr. Saylor the keys to an unsafe Lexus. The defective car sped out of control over 120 miles an hour on the freeway in San Diego, and narrowly missed colliding with other vehicles before it crashed and caught on fire.

“One of the best ways to ensure cars with open safety recall notices get fixed is to require all car dealerships to get them repaired before they leave the lot,” said Jason Pfeifle. For CarMax, that would involve taking the car to a franchised new car dealership for free repairs.

However, instead of fixing safety recalls, CarMax is actually misleading consumers with advertisements that tout their 125+ point inspection and the safety of the cars they sell. The problem is that their “inspection” omits getting known safety defects that have triggered a federal safety recall repaired.

“When lives are at stake, there’s no excuse for CarMax to neglect to get safety recall repairs done — for free — before they hand over the keys to consumers,” said Jim Beno, Directing Business representative District 190 Machinists Union.

The groups released letters calling upon California Attorney General Kamala Harris and the Department of Motor Vehicles to investigate and crack down on CarMax over its sales practices, under existing consumer protection laws. Depending upon the results of any investigation, possible sanctions could include fines, restitution for victims, and / or suspension or revocation of CarMax’s license to do business in California.

“CarMax is selling ticking time-bomb cars in California,” said Shahan. “That has to stop.”


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The Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety (CARS) Foundation is dedicated to preventing motor vehicle-related fatalities, injuries, and economic losses through education,

outreach, aid to victims, and related activities.


CALPIRG Education Fund conducts research and public education on behalf of consumers and the public interest. Our research, analysis, reports and outreach serve as counterweights to the influence of powerful special interests that threaten our health, safety or wellbeing.