CarMax Accused of Selling Unsafe Cars with Open Recalls

Report Reveals 10 Percent of Oxnard Lot Vehicles Have Recalls

Two consumer advocacy groups have accused CarMax — the country’s largest used car chain — of putting buyers and other drivers at risk by deceptively selling vehicles with open federal safety recalls.

Last Wednesday at a press conference in front of the state Attorney General’s office in Sacramento, the California Public Interest Research Group (CALPIRG) and the Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety (CARS) released a report that claims CarMax dupes its customers with false advertising and misleading information. The company pushes cars that are “perfect” and “the best” without warning buyers of pending recall orders, they said.

“CarMax is playing recalled-car roulette with its customers’ lives,” said Rosemary Shahan, CARS president. She called on the Department of Motor Vehicles and Attorney General Kamala Harris to investigate CarMax’s sales practices.

According to the report, CarMax bills all its vehicles as completely “certified” with clean inspection records but then fails to adequately disclose potential safety risks associated with any number of recalls. Buyers are led to believe their purchases are completely safe to drive off the lot, the report states, and it’s unfairly up to them to seek out potential problems.

That’s simply not the case, CarMax has countered. In a prepared statement, company spokesperson Casey Werderman said CarMax provides every one of its customers with a review of the their vehicle’s VIN-specific recall report. “After this initial review, customers sign a form acknowledging receipt of this NHTSA [National Highway Traffic Safety Administration] recall report with their sales documents,” he said.

While CALPIRG and CARS have argued CarMax could and should carry out recall repairs before the company puts its vehicles up for sale, Werderman explained the current recall system is based on the car manufacturer’s relationship with its dealers and registered vehicle owners, and not with independent used auto retailers, such as CarMax. “Among other things,” he said, “this means that manufacturers have not authorized CarMax to complete recall repairs.”

Based in Virginia, CarMax operates 175 stores with 18 in California. Its Oxnard lot is the closest to Santa Barbara, where many of its customers reside. The CALPIRG/CARS report found that up to 10 percent of CarMax’s Oxnard vehicles have open recalls. A recent survey of 455 cars revealed 46 have recalls for, among other things, faulty anti-lock brakes, bad seatbelts, electrical problems, and broken door latches.

Last summer, a group of 11 consumer organizations across the country sent a letter to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), asking it to curb what they called CarMax’s dangerous sales techniques. “CarMax’s claims clearly go beyond mere puffery and would very likely mislead even sophisticated car buyers into believing that they do not need to have the vehicles inspected by an automotive technician of their choice, or check them out themselves.” The FTC said it takes the allegations very seriously and is “engaged in enforcement and policy efforts” around such safety issues.


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