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What Are the Risks of Buying a Car With an Open Recall?

  Norman Taylor & Associates
  April 29, 2024

Car buyers often search for the best deals and hidden gems when purchasing used vehicles. However, this treasure hunt involves certain risks, including buying a car with an open recall. Learn more about what this could mean for you below!


What Is an Open Recall on a Car?

An open recall is when a vehicle manufacturer has identified a safety-related defect or non-compliance with a specific model and issued a formal statement to inform owners of the need for repairs. These recalls are typically specific to certain makes and models, making it hard for manufacturers to track down every car owner affected by the recall.

Typical issues covered under open recalls include but aren’t limited to, seat belt problems, power malfunctions, airbag defects, and brake issues.

Unfortunately, used car dealers aren’t legally required to fix or disclose open recalls to potential buyers. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) doesn’t have the authority or bandwidth to enforce these repairs and ensure disclosure, which means many used cars on the market may have unresolved open recall issues.


Should I Buy a Car With an Open Recall?

No, you should avoid buying cars with open recalls. While snagging a great deal on a used vehicle may be tempting, you should always prioritize your and your passenger’s safety. Consider these factors before making your choice:

  • Safety Concerns: Ignoring recalls can potentially put you at risk of accidents or injuries. 
  • Availability of Parts and Repairs: When there’s a recall, manufacturers are responsible for providing free repairs to affected vehicles. However, getting the parts and repairs done can take a while or be hard to find, which might inconvenience you and leave you without a working car for an extended period. 
  • Diminished Resale Value: Cars with open recalls might lose resale value due to their inherent safety concerns. If you want to sell the vehicle later, buyers might hesitate to buy it because of the recall. 
  • Legal Implications: Sometimes, people who buy cars with open recalls can be legally responsible if a vehicle defect causes an accident or injury.

How to Find Out If There’s a Recall on a Pre-Owned Car


  1. Research the Vehicle’s History
  2. Research the car’s history using its Vehicle Identification Number (VIN). The VIN is a unique code assigned to each vehicle and can be found on the car’s registration documents or near the windshield. Use reputable online resources or the manufacturer’s website to check if any recalls are associated with the vehicle.


  3. Visit the Manufacturer’s Website
  4. Most manufacturers have dedicated recall lookup tools on their websites. Enter the VIN of the car you’re interested in to see if any open recalls exist. The website will provide detailed information about the recall, including the specific issue, potential risks, and steps to address the problem.


  5. Consult the NHTSA Database
  6. The NHTSA has an extensive database of recalls. Visit their website and enter the VIN to access information about open recalls associated with the vehicle. The NHTSA database provides additional details, such as the number of affected cars and any related investigations or complaints.


  7. Seek Professional Assistance
  8. If you’re uncomfortable interpreting recall information or want a more in-depth evaluation of the car’s safety, find a trusted mechanic or an independent vehicle inspection service. A professional can assess the car’s condition, identify potential safety issues, and offer expert advice on whether it’s wise to proceed with the purchase.


What Happens If I Buy a Used Car With a Recall?

In the unfortunate event you’ve already bought a used car only to discover it has an open recall, there are steps you can take to address the issue:

  • Contact the Manufacturer: Contact the vehicle manufacturer and inform them of the open recall on the car you purchased. Provide the necessary details, including the VIN, and ask about the next steps for getting the recall repairs done. Manufacturers are legally obligated to fix the recall issues free of charge. 
  • Visit an Authorized Dealership: Take your vehicle to an authorized dealership affiliated with the manufacturer. They’ll inspect the car, confirm the open recall, and proceed with the necessary repairs or replacements. 
  • Follow-Up and Documentation: Keep clear and organized documentation of all interactions with the manufacturer and dealership about the recall repairs, including dates, times, names of people you spoke with, and any relevant paperwork; this may be necessary for legal purposes or if any issues arise in the future. 
  • Consult with Lemon Law Attorneys: If you encounter issues resolving the recall or believe you’ve been treated unfairly, consider working with a lemon law attorney. 

Did Your Pre-Owned Car Stop Working? Contact Our California Lemon Lawyers!

If you find yourself dealing with a pre-owned car that continuously breaks down or has unresolved issues, you might be entitled to compensation under the California lemon law. At Norman Taylor & Associates, our firm can look into the facts of your care to determine if filing a lemon law claim is worth your time! 

Call 818-244-3905 or contact us today for a FREE consultation for your case.

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The information on this website is for general information purposes only. Nothing on this site should be taken as legal advice for any individual case or situation. This information is not intended to create, and receipt or viewing does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship.


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