The Hypocrisy of GSA Recalled Vehicle Sales

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The U.S. government regulates vehicle recalls, but it's also selling unfixed recalled vehicles.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020 - An investigation by a Washington, D.C. news station has revealed that, while the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is busy educating consumers on the importance of fixing vehicles recalled for safety issues, another U.S. government agency, the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) has been selling vehicles to the public that they know to be dangerous.

WJLA ABC7, owned by Sinclair Broadcast Group, aired a report February 7, 2020 following up on a 2016 investigation they conducted into GSA. At that time, they learned that recalled vehicles were being auctioned with no warning to consumers that they had been recalled for safety issues, including defective seatbelts, dangerous airbags, faulty ignition switches, and dangerous brakes.

Since that time, according to their 2020 report, GSA has posted warnings online about recalled vehicles, but they continue to sell them without addressing safety issues -- the same safety issues that NHTSA implores consumers to fix.

GSA is responsible for obtaining new vehicles and leasing them to various federal agencies. Once leases have expired, the vehicles are sold at auction to the general public.

According to the GSA website, "These vehicles have been well maintained. Our vehicles are carefully detailed before sale and come loaded with most options consumers typically prefer." That maintenance does not always include addressing manufacturer recalls that have been issued for safety reasons.

For example, a 2017 Chevrolet Tahoe recalled for a problem with brake function is listed on the GSA site and contains a link to the NHTSA site where potential buyers can look up recall information. Buyers who discover the vehicle at the sale without using the website, however, may or may not be told about the potential risk.

Another vehicle available for auction on the GSA site is a 2011 Chevrolet C2500HD truck. A NHTSA search reveals that an airbag defect it has been recalled for has caused injuries and deaths. The GSA site indicates it was notified of the recall July 9, 2018, yet it had still not been addressed.

Dozens of other examples are available on the GSA Fleet Vehicle Sales website.

Though GSA has begun placing a warning about recalled vehicles on its website, the idea that buyers should be solely responsible for their safety doesn't sit well with some safety advocates. Those advocates, some of whom are quoted in the WJLA report, believe that GSA should practice what other government agencies preach and obtain free fixes for recalled vehicles before putting lives in danger.

Currently, federal law prohibits dealerships from selling recalled new cars. Although there is no federal law prohibiting the sale of used cars that have been recalled, various states have passed legislation to hold dealerships accountable. Rental car agencies with fleets over 35 vehicles are prohibited by federal law to rent, sell, or loan unfixed recalled vehicles.

It would seem reasonably fair that the federal government should be held accountable to the same standards, particularly since recalls are regulated by that same federal government.

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