Mid-South auto dealers still selling vehicles with dangerous airbag

Mid-South auto dealers still selling vehicles with dangerous airbag
Published: Jul. 25, 2016 at 9:00 PM CDT|Updated: Aug. 2, 2016 at 1:58 AM CDT
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(Source: WMC Action News 5)
(Source: WMC Action News 5)

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - A WMC Action News 5 hidden camera investigation found Mid-South auto dealerships still selling used vehicles with the Takata airbag, despite a federal government recall that has implicated the airbag in at least ten deaths and more than 100 injuries nationwide.

The Takata airbag is front and center of the largest auto safety recall in history. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and more than a dozen auto manufacturers are on pace to recall 70 million vehicles with the airbag worldwide by 2019. Safety investigators have said under certain weather and humidity conditions, it can spontaneously explode, spewing shrapnel from its plastic and metal housing (for affected vehicles, please click here).

But the recall is so massive -- and manufacturers are so far behind in supplying dealers with airbag replacements -- that WMC Action News 5 secret shoppers Jacqueline Crockett and Shawn Anderson found vehicles with the Takata airbag still inside them on the sales lots and inventories of Mid-South used car dealers.

Equipped with hidden cameras and with the MyCarfax maintenance phone app, Crockett and Anderson found a 2008 Honda Ridgeline and a 2006 Lexus IS 250 for sale at Memphis Auto Market, 1831 Getwell Road. According to MyCarfax and NHTSA's SaferCar.gov vehicle identification number (VIN) search, both vehicles have unresolved recalls for the Takata airbag.

But when they alerted a Memphis Auto Market salesperson identified only as Lawrence to the potential danger, he told them on hidden camera that the dealership would still sell those vehicles. "Sure, we'll sell them," he told them. "Why wouldn't we? We're not liable for anything that happens."

"Those cars in that condition, they were willing to sell those to us," Crockett said.

According to federal law, it is not a violation of safety regulations to sell the vehicles. The federal Motor Vehicle Safety Act prohibits the sale of new vehicles with defects that are subject to "stop sales" orders either by the manufacturer or by the government. But the law does not forbid dealers from selling used vehicles with the same defects, including vehicles with the Takata airbag.

"To suggest that cars with recalls cannot be sold would render millions of vehicles that have not injured anyone 'sale-proof' or worthless," said Memphis Auto Market's owner Harry Stopher. "We have a 'Customer Disclosure of Recall' form signed by our customers, providing notice of potential recalls due at the point of purchase. We prefer to let the consumer make their own choice."

The national used car sales chain Carmax has a similar policy. It posts the VIN and a link to NHTSA's VIN search tool with every vehicle listing on its website so its customers can run their own recall searches before they buy. Yet Crockett and Anderson found a Ford Mustang on the lot of Carmax's Memphis location, 7771 U.S. Highway 64, with the Takata airbag still inside. The vehicle was marked sold, with a pending transfer order to a customer out of town.

"That car shouldn't be pending transfer," Anderson said. "As a consumer, would I want a car with a recall transferred to a city for someone to tell me, 'Well, you can buy this car, and we'll fix it?' No."

"Our policy, as we approach all recalls, is to let the customer make that decision for themselves," said Carmax Public Affairs spokesperson Jonathan McNamara. "Under our five-day money-back guarantee, if for any reason they decide they don't want that vehicle, they can bring it back."

Other Mid-South dealerships have adopted policies that restrict the sale of used vehicles with the Takata airbag.

The AutoNation dealership group's policy is to freeze all sales on used vehicles with the airbag until their replacement airbags are installed, which in some cases is "taking months," according to Kenny Myers, general manager of AutoNation Ford Wolfchase, 7925 Stage Road.

City Auto, 4932 Elmore Road, has a three-tiered policy in which it checks every vehicle in its inventory for all recalls. Its staff checks first on the NHTSA VIN look-up tool, then a third-party vendor checks every vehicle for recalls nightly. A third check is conducted at the point of sale. "Sometimes, we'll stop a sale right before it's about to happen if we learn right before we sell it that the car has a Takata airbag recall on it," said City Auto General Manager Will Brigance.

In fact, Brigance pulled a Ford Mustang off City Auto's lot when our own MyCarfax recall check revealed an active Takata airbag recall on its passenger side. City Auto co-partner Stan Norton said vehicles with the Takata airbag represent 15 percent of the dealership's inventory, yet it still grounds those vehicles at a $3 million loss in potential revenue. "I wouldn't want to put my wife in one of these cars," Brigance said. "I wouldn't want to put my son in these cars. We do not want to put our customers in those cars. That's why we check them before we sell them. We feel like it's the right thing to do."

"The National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA) continues to advise its members not to sell any vehicle that has been determined by the engineering experts at NHTSA to be too dangerous to drive while it is awaiting recall replacement parts," said NADA's Senior Director of Media Relations Jared Allen. "NADA's position is that if NHTSA determines that a recalled vehicle is too dangerous to drive, then it is too dangerous to sell, period."

The Tennessee Automotive Association (TAA) echoed NADA's position, but it also blamed auto manufacturers for being too slow in providing repair or replacement parts for recalls, including the Takata recall. "The lack of recall repair parts from manufacturers has frustrated consumers and dealers alike," said TAA President Bob Weaver. "We strongly urge the federal government to grade the severity of the recalls and urge manufacturers to make the availability of the recall repair parts a corporate priority."

NHTSA's Communications Director Bryan Thomas said the agency has lobbied Congress to amend the Motor Vehicle Safety Act to prevent dealers from selling used vehicles with known safety defects. "NHTSA and the Department of Transportation have requested this authority, but Congress has not passed it into law," Thomas said.

Despite Memphis Auto Market's legal right to sell the recalled vehicles, Crockett and Anderson pressed its salesperson on the danger of the Takata airbag. On hidden camera, the salesperson called a Lexus representative for guidance on how he should handle the 2006 Lexus with the airbag in the dealership's inventory. "The customer cannot have a passenger drive on the passenger side," the unidentified Lexus representative told 'Lawrence.' "They may have a wreck, it may deploy and wheel particles could kill the customer. We can't sell any cars with that recall on it."

'Lawrence' promptly pulled that Lexus out of Memphis Auto Market's inventory, but only after our secret shoppers alerted him to the danger through their MyCarfax maintenance app. "I found out things when I went looking that I never knew before," said Crockett. "It's going to make me think twice and do a lot of homework (when I buy a used vehicle)."

For a walkthrough of how to use the app, watch this:

The Tennessee Department of Commerce & Insurance issued an alert on specific makes and models under the Takata recall that are at higher risk of rupture. Those vehicles include:

* 2001-2002 Honda Civic

* 2001-2002 Honda Accord

* 2002-2003 Acura TL

* 2002 Honda CR-V

* 2002 Honda Odyssey

* 2003 Acura CL

* 2003 Honda Pilot

For NHTSA's complete data and coverage on the Takata recall, please click here.

Copyright 2016 WMC Action News 5. All rights reserved.staff