Legislative Director, MASSPIRG
Legislative Director, MASSPIRG
CarMax, the nation’s largest retailer of used cars, is endangering lives in Massachusetts by selling recalled vehicles with potentially lethal safety defects. According to a report released today by the MASSPIRG Education Fund and the Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety Foundation, research conducted on October 28, 2015, found that over 17 percent of cars offered for sale at the CarMax North Attleboro dealership – 42 out of 243 – were subject to a federal safety recall that had not been repaired, despite the fact that repairs for many of these safety defects were readily available – at no cost to CarMax. While some of the recalls may involve delays due to parts shortages or temporary non-availability of a remedy, CarMax could have simply waited until the repair was provided by the manufacturer before offering the cars for sale.
The vehicles were recalled due to defects including stalling in traffic; catching on fire; seat belts that may fail in a crash; Takata air bag inflators that rupture and propel metal fragments, blinding drivers or passengers or causing them to bleed to death; sticking accelerator pedals, and faulty steering that can cause a crash.
Five vehicles were subject to two or more recalls each, and 15 cars had unrepaired safety recalls where the manufacturer advised that a remedy, or repair, was “not yet available.” Consequently, purchasers who attempted to get those safety defects fixed after purchase would be unable to get them repaired until fixes were made available.
“CarMax is playing recalled car roulette with the public’s safety,” said Rosemary Shahan, President of the CARS Foundation.
“Used car sales should not need a safety ‘Buyer Beware’ sign – the cars should be free of safety recalls before they leave the lot. I introduced the Used Car Safety Recall Repair Act to require car dealers to repair any outstanding safety recalls in used cars prior to selling or leasing them. It’s time we end the confusion of car buyers who believe they are buying a product that is safe but could end up threatening the lives of families on our Massachusetts roadways,” said Senator Edward J. Markey (D-MA).
Senator Markey is championing legislation in Congress, along with Sen. Blumenthal (D-CT), to make it a violation of federal law, enforceable by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, for dealers to sell unrepaired recalled used cars without getting the free repairs done first.
“Consumers rightly have the expectation that when shopping at any car dealership they will be sold a safe car, and at the very least, they certainly would not expect that any car for sale would still be under a safety recall,” said Deirdre Cummings, Consumer Program Director with the MASSPIRG Education Fund.
Sean Kane, founder and president of the board of directors of The Safety Institute and a nationally known safety advocate, described his experience buying a 2012 Jeep from the CarMax store in North Attleboro on November 30. The Jeep was on display at the news conference. Kane told the salesperson that the Jeep was for his wife and his 15 year-old son Jake, who accompanied him to the dealership. The salesperson repeatedly reassured him that it was safe and that it had cleared the CarMax inspection. It wasn’t until after Sean specifically requested information about recalls that they were identified – and even then the safety hazards associated with the recalls were said to be insignificant.
After Sean signed a contract purchasing the Jeep and wrote a check, and the dealership had verified that the check would clear, he was presented with a document to sign that said CarMax had disclosed that the NHTSA had reported that the Jeep had unrepaired safety recalls, but that AutoCheck, a vehicle history service that provides information on used cars, reported “no open recalls.”
The Jeep purchased by Kane had three unrepaired recalls, for the following defects: 1) A brake problem that “could cause a crash without warning,” 2) intermittent stalling in traffic, which “could cause a crash without warning,” and 3) faulty wiring in the visor that may short out and cause a fire.
A vehicle history report for the Jeep provided by CarMax, from AutoCheck (owned by Experian), indicated that “your vehicle checks out” and the Jeep received green checkmarks for a long list of potential problems. There was no indication on the report that the Jeep had any safety recalls pending.
As concerning is that CarMax advertises that all the vehicles it offers for sale must pass a rigorous “125 point inspection” in order to qualify to be sold as “CarMax Quality Certified” vehicles. It also advertises a long list of specific components that are checked including brakes, engine and transmission, electrical, and steering, to name a few. Such ads are inherently deceptive when the vehicle has a safety defect that led to a safety recall, and is not repaired.
“I specifically told CarMax I wanted to buy a safe vehicle for my family, and they sold me a vehicle with three potentially lethal safety defects – sudden engine shutdown, faulty brakes and a fire hazard,” said Sean Kane.
The report found that car buyers shopping at CarMax’s dealership in North Attleboro faced an even higher risk of being sold unsafe, unrepaired recalled cars with potentially lethal safety defects than used car buyers in CarMax stores in California or Connecticut, based on research in those states.
Research earlier this year by the CARS Foundation and the CALPIRG Education Fund in California found that 10 percent of vehicles at the CarMax in Oxnard and 9 percent of the vehicles at CarMax’s South Sacramento dealership had unrepaired safety recalls. Research conducted in Connecticut found that 16 percent of CarMax cars offered for sale in East Haven and 10 percent of CarMax cars in Hartford had unrepaired safety recalls.
The groups called on Attorney General Maura Healey to investigate CarMax’s sales of unrepaired recalled vehicles in Massachusetts and take appropriate action to protect the public.
The findings are particularly troubling given CarMax’s plans to open more stores in Massachusetts, including in Norwood, Danvers and Westboro.
Consumer complaints to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration regarding the defects in the Jeep and other models with the same defects are posted here:
The Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety (CARS) Foundation, founded in 1982, is dedicated to preventing motor vehicle-related fatalities, injuries, and economic losses through education, outreach, aid to victims, and related activities.
The MASSPIRG Education Fund is an independent, non-partisan group that works for consumers and the public interest. Through research, public education and outreach, we serve as counterweights to the influence of powerful special interests that threaten our health, safety, or well-being.
A more detailed account about Sean Kane’s car buying experience at the CarMax store in North Attleboro is posted at: http://carconsumers.org/pdf/CarMax_MA_Sean_Kane-Jeep-Purchase_Summary.pdf
 “CarMax’s Sales Practices Endanger Lives in California,” Consumers for Auto Reliability Safety (CARS) Foundation and CALPIRG Education Fund, 2015. Accessed at http://www.carsfoundation.org/pdf/CarMax-Sales-Practices-Endanger-Lives.pdf.
 “CarMax: Endangering Lives in Connecticut,” Consumers for Auto Reliability Safety (CARS) Foundation and CONNPIRG Education Fund, 2015. Accessed at http://carconsumers.org/pdf/CarMax-CT-report_New-Haven_Hartford-6.pdf.