Lawsuit may change misleading marketing of vehicles with open recalls

A recently filed lawsuit could prevent dealerships and automakers from presenting vehicles with open, unresolved recalls as “safe” and certified pre-owned.

When shopping for a used car, most people in Illinois view safety as one of the most important attributes to look for. To this end, many consumers exclusively shop used vehicles that are sold through dealerships and have been "certified pre-owned." This designation signifies that the vehicle has passed a mechanical inspection specified by the automaker and been deemed safe to operate.

Worrisomely, however, many consumers may not realize that dealerships can legally advertise a vehicle as "safe" and "certified pre-owned" even if it has an unrepaired recall - a practice that could expose consumers to unsafe vehicles and serious, unnecessary accidents. Fortunately, a recently filed lawsuit could put a stop to this dangerous practice.

Deceptive advertising

The ability of dealers and automakers to present cars as safe even if they have open recalls arises from a set of agreements that the Federal Trade Commission reached in 2016 with an automaker and two dealerships. According to NBC News, these parties allegedly advertised vehicles as rigorously inspected and safe even when the vehicles had serious unaddressed recalls, including the following defects:

· Problems with the alternator that could pose a fire hazard

· Defective air bags that could release metal shrapnel upon deployment

· Faulty ignition switches that could cause the engine to turn off, thereby preventing airbag deployment in the event of a crash

In the agreement, the FTC determined that automakers and dealers could describe these vehicles as "safe" and label them certified pre-owned, as long as they advised consumers that repairs for the open recalls had not been made.

Safety concerns

As The Washington Post notes, many automakers have traditionally chosen to prohibit dealers from selling unrepaired vehicles with dangerous defects as certified pre-owned, even if this practice is technically legal. However, at least one domestic automaker has recently changed its policies to allow vehicles with open recalls to be labeled as certified pre-owned. Critics have expressed concerns that more automakers may start following suit in light of last year's agreement.

As a result, several consumer protection groups have sued the FTC and asked that the agreement be reviewed. These groups contend that the current labeling practices are deceptive and dangerous, since many consumers may not understand that a vehicle can be certified pre-owned without being "safe" by any reasonable standard.

Pursuing legal recourse

Sadly, accidents involving defective vehicles may harm many people each year. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimated in one study that about 44,000 car crashes occur annually due to vehicle-related factors, such as problems with the brakes, engine, transmission, tires and steering. These same factors may play a contributing role in an even greater number of accidents.

When motor vehicle accidents occur due to negligence on the part of an automobile manufacturer, legal remedies may be available to victims. An attorney may be able to provide further advice and guidance to anyone who has suffered harm in an accident caused by a defective vehicle.