The ongoing series of recalls involving cars equipped with Takata airbags simply underscores the importance of recalls when you buy a used car. If the vehicle in question has been subject to a safety recall, you need to make sure the issue has been addressed.
The Takata recalls are particularly serious. Honda has widened its recall of cars equipped with Takata airbags by another 170,000 vehicles after learning that a Malaysian consumer died in July after being hit by shrapnel from a deployed airbag. Four previous confirmed deaths occurred in the U.S.
So far this year more than 52 million vehicles have been recalled in the U.S., increasing the odds a U.S. consumer could drive home with a car with a serious safety issue. Used car website iSeeCars.com has studied the 35 most widely available used cars from the 2007 to 2013 model years to see which ones had the most recalls.
Time is money
The survey looked at the average number of recalls a particular model experienced and how much time a vehicle owner had to spend getting the problem fixed.
“Recalls are of course detrimental to the safety of the driver and the car's occupants, but they also represent a huge headache for consumers," said iSeeCars.com CEO Phong Ly. "You need to call to make an appointment with the dealer, then there's the driving to the dealership, waiting in line and waiting for the repair to be performed or for them to provide you a loaner car. Then you repeat the process again in reverse when the repair is complete."
At an estimated average of three hours per recall, the lost hours quickly add up. The iSeeCars.com survey found the Chevrolet Cruz had the most average recalls, at 4.8, barely edging out the Toyota RAV4 with 4.7. The Cruz recalls were also the most costly in terms of time lost, at 14.4 hours, compared the the RAV4's 14.0.
Number three on the list is the Jeep Grand Cherokee with 4.4 recalls and 13.2 lost hours. The Dodge/Ram 1500 is fourth with 4.3 recalls and 12.9 lost hours and the Jeep Wrangler is fifth, with 4.2 recalls and 12.6 hours lost. That gives Chrysler the dubious distinction of placing 3 models in the top 5 of iSeeCars.com's most-recalled list.
What to do
Ly points out the list covers a wide time span and the cars high on the list might not have had a recall in the model year you're considering. But there's an easy way to find out if any used car you are thinking about buying has not only been recalled, but had the recall issue addressed.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration website has a searchable database where you can enter the car's Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) and it will tell you if there is an open recall. If there is, and you still want the vehicle, you can then have the dealer get the issue repaired before you buy the car.
The NHTSA database has proven somewhat unreliable, often crashing during times of peak usage. A similar but more robust database is available on the Carfax site. Each manufacturer also has its own VIN database.
It is particularly important to run the VIN through the database if you are buying a car in a private sale, such as a car you found on Craigslist.
Beyond whether the recall issue has been addressed, Ly says the frequency a model is subject to recall is a legitimate consideration when a consumer goes used car shopping.