HOUSTON – Buying a used car instead of a new one almost always makes good economic sense, unless you end up in Ann Nogast's old 2011 Honda Pilot.
"Because it's going to be some innocent family that ends up the next possible fatality," Nogast said.
That's because her old Pilot with leather seats and fairly low mileage has a potentially deadly airbag on the passenger side. They're the same airbags that have killed 10 drivers in the United States, two of them in our area.
"I didn't feel like taking a gamble with my family's lives and my friends' lives," Nogast told consumer expert Amy Davis.
When Nogast learned the parts to replace the airbag were not available, and Honda recommended that no one ride in the front passenger seat, she traded her family's SUV for another one. Days later, she found her Pilot for sale online. The seller, Cypress Auto Sales, provided a free Carfax report that showed the Pilot had no open recalls despite the recall notice listed on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's website, which is free to anyone.
"I believe that they are knowingly lying to customers," Nogast said.
She notified Cypress Auto Sales of the error by email. When the dealer didn't remove the erroneous Carfax report, a KPRC Channel 2 News intern went car-shopping wearing a hidden camera. She found the car and a helpful salesman.
"Honda had some kind of problem with the airbags or something. This one?" the intern asked the salesman.
"No," he replied.
Then she asked again more directly.
"So this car doesn't have a recall?" the intern asked.
"No," the salesman replied.
"At all?" she questioned.
"No," he answered.
The owner of Cypress Auto Sales said he had never heard of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and he relied solely on Carfax.
"Ma'am, we don't know nothing about the recall," he told Davis.
"You just have to look it up on the government website. Shouldn't you know that?" Davis asked.
"Ma'am, we do not know nothing about the recall on this car," the owner said.
"It doesn't surprise me that they wouldn't want to take the time or make the effort to look up each one of these cars," Houston attorney Bob Schwartz said. "They want to rely on somebody to tell them like Carfax so they can print that off, hand it to the consumer and they think they've done their job."
KPRC 2 News didn't just find one car or one false Carfax report. We found used cars under recall but listed with "no open recalls" on Carfax from Conroe to Humble and Southwest Houston to Katy.
We called Joel Rogers Classic Chevrolet to see a 2011 Pilot that is under recall even though the free Carfax report said it was not. Once at the dealership, a man who said he's head of internet sales told Davis he's certain someone would have caught the error before she bought it.
"We don't have any other tools beyond the Carfax," the man named Ranger told Davis.
"You have the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration website," Davis told him. "Can I show it to you?"
"Well, I don't have time," he replied. "I think you might want to show that to somebody else."
Used car dealers have been given no directives from regulators about selling cars under recall. NHTSA's regional administrator admitted as much in a news conference about the danger of the airbags.
"In the used car dealerships, those are some things that we're working on to make sure that everyone knows," Georgia Chakiris said. "I would recommend that everyone ask."
"Well, it's fraudulent, for one. No. 2, it's a blatant misrepresentation of the facts," Schwartz said of dealers who tell consumers a car has no open recalls when it does.
When Davis reached out to Carfax to ask about the inaccurate reports, spokesman Chris Basso replied in an email, describing the problem as a "technical glitch" that they "fixed" and thanked Davis for bringing to their attention.
"You mean that's why the elevator dropped 10 stories? That's why the escalator jerked and caused someone to fall off? These were all technical glitches. That doesn't excuse their behavior or conduct," Schwartz said.
There's no way to know how many people purchased vehicles believing they were not under recall, but if you did, Schwartz said you have a case against the dealer and Carfax for violations of the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act. If you are shopping for a used car, just check the car's vehicle identification number yourself at www.safercar.gov.