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Do you know if the vehicle you're driving has been recalled?

The General Motors recall scandal has angered many Americans, and rightly so. An automobile is one of the most expensive possessions that most of us own, and often the most dangerous. If it suffers from a serious defect, consumers have a right to know as soon as the automaker does. GM may have known about its faulty ignition switches as far back as 2001, but the recall was not issued until earlier this year.

The GM scandal highlights a related and equally serious issue about recalls and liability. There are about 2 million rental vehicles traveling U.S. roads at any given time. This includes an unknown number of defective automobiles that have been recalled. Currently, rental companies and used-car dealerships are not required to inform customers that the car they are renting or buying has been recalled. Nor are they required to get the defects fixed.

Consider the fact that 11.4 million vehicles have already been recalled this year alone. If you bought a new vehicle that was later recalled, you would be personally informed of the recall. But if you bought used or rented, you might be driving a defective vehicle that was never fixed and about which you were never warned.

There are two proposals currently under consideration in Washington, D.C. One takes the form of a Senate bill requiring rental agencies to take recalled vehicles out of service until the necessary repairs have been made. A similar proposal that extends the requirement to used-car dealers has been included in a four-year budget plan by the Transportation Department.

Unfortunately, the federal government tends to move at a snail’s pace. Meanwhile, an unknown number of defective and dangerous vehicles are being rented and sold second-hand to unsuspecting Americans. How long can we afford to wait before this serious issue is finally addressed in a way that protects consumers?

Source: The New York Times, "Recalled Used Cars Roam the Roads as Federal Legislation Stalls," Rachel Abrams and Christopher Jensen, May 8, 2014

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