WATCH | GSA auctions cars to the public with open recalls that could put you at risk.
Feds auction cars to the public with potentially dangerous recalls
When the federal government issues a car recall, they ask consumers to get the problem fixed to get a danger off the road.
But when it comes to the government's own fleet of vehicles not only have they failed to make repairs, the General Services Administration (GSA) is actually auctioning off cars to the general public that still have open recalls.
Across the United States, thousands of cars that have been retired by various agencies are auctioned off by the GSA. The agency says between 35,000 to 40,000 vehicles are put up for auction every year.
The GSA auctions are open to the public. You'll find everything from pimped-out Dodge Chargers to beat-up Crown Victorias for sale. But we found hundreds of cars up for auction had dangerous open recalls that could put you at risk.
"I'm shocked, absolutely shocked. These are government cars. They should have been fixed before they even went to auctions to be sold."
—Clarence Ditlow, Center for Auto Safety
Recalls in auctioned cars included serious safety defects
The recalls we found in cars being auctioned had disturbing and potentially deadly defects.
We discovered recalls for steering problems that could make drivers lose control and crash, as well as airbag flaws that could shoot metal fragments at the driver if they were deployed.
Our Circa investigative team also found some cars with engine problems that could result in the vehicle stalling while in motion.
Safety experts point to government contradictions
Clarence Ditlow with the Center for Auto Safety called out the GSA for selling cars with recalls that could have been fixed for free.
He pointed out the contradiction between the GSA and NHTSA, which issues recall notices and encourages the public to get cars with defects fixed because of the safety risks they pose.
"Here they're doing themselves what they say others shouldn't do," Ditlow said. "That's just hypocrisy."
More than 20% of cars up for auction had open recalls
Fleet management company AutoAp helped Circa crunch the data. In August, the GSA had 2,037 cars up for auction. Of those, 427 still had open recalls.
"It's bothersome. It's worrisome to me."
—Mark Paul, AutoAp
Under current law, it's perfectly legal to sell a usedvehicle with an open recall. That means the federal government or average Joe's can offer them to the public without specific disclosure. However, new car dealers, under federal law, must repair open recalls before cars are sold to the public. Some dealerships have already been fined by NHTSA for selling cars without repairing recalls, something considered a violation of the Safety Act.
Small warning in print
GSA officials wouldn't talk on-camera, but said in a statement:
"The agency notifies all auction bidders and successful buyers in advance that there may be outstanding recalls on the sale vehicle, and to contact either their local dealership or use the NHTSA website to check the vehicle's recall status."
That notice is a small warning in print and a brief mention at the auction.
"Somewhere, sometime, someone is going to be killed because you sold this GSA vehicle with an outstanding recall."
—Clarence Ditlow, Center for Auto Safety
Service tags on some of the vehicles Circa viewed indicate they had been driven months and sometimes years after the recall notices had been issued. That put federal employees who were behind the wheel before the cars were retired at potential risk.
Driven long after recalls issued
The GSA wouldn't answer specific questions about cars with open recalls being driven by federal government employees. They said sometimes the recall notices go out after a fleet vehicle has been retired.
But we found cars used by agencies, including the United States Park Police and the Army, had been driven long after their recalls were issued.
An 'F' for safety
Recall notices are issued to the agencies that lease fleet cars. Follow-up notices are then sent every 16 weeks, according to the GSA. But it appears obvious that some slip through the cracks, putting workers and the general public at potential risk.
Given the federal government is the agency that maintains and issues recalls, Ditlow sees no excuse for a different agency not warning buyers specifically about the car they're about to buy.
"I would simply give GSA an 'F' for safety," Ditlow said.
WATCH | How long does it take to auction off a GSA fleet vehicle? Less time than it takes to post a pic to Instagram
Think you've been impacted? Circa can help
Bought a car at a GSA auction in the last three months? Circa wants to hear from you.
You supply the VIN and we'll help you figure out if the car you bought from the feds has a recall.
Contact Joce Sterman on Twitter @Jocefromthenews
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