If your car has a recall for a safety issue, dealers are supposed to fix it free of charge. It's a federal law.
But sometimes, a dealer may not want to touch your car.
One Northern Kentucky family just learned two reasons dealers can refuse a recall repair, which has left them with a dangerous car for their teenage daughter.
Ryan VanHook recently purchased a 2008 Chevy Cobalt for her high school senior as an inexpensive first car.
But after a few weeks, her daughter Alexis said, "It started smelling like gas when I came home one night. I noticed the smell, but didn't think that much of it."
After a few more days, though, the gasoline smell got worse.
"I smell it the majority of the time," she said.
So mom Ryan looked underneath and found a small gasoline leak by the fuel tank.
She searched online, and found that tens of thousands of 2007 - 2009 Cobalts were under a safety recall for faulty fuel pump seals, which could begin to leak gasoline.
But a GM dealer gave her some bad news.
"The manager came back and told the adviser they can't fix the car because it has a branded title for water damage, and there was nothing they could do to help me," VanHook said.
Why dealer did not want to do repair
It turns out the car had a flood vehicle title, which is similar to a salvage tile given to a car that had been totaled and rebuilt.
The flood title stated the car had been flooded in Mississippi, most likely during hurricane flooding.
But Reddit forums and news reports find that dealers often deny recall repairs on salvage cars, due to liability if there is a crash later.
VanHook says they could pay to fix the fuel leak at a small shop, but says that would cost almost as much as the car is worth, and it would make more sense to just scrap it.
"I'm thinking it will cost at least a thousand dollars," she said, to replace the fuel pump, filler hose, and possibly even the gas tank.
But it turns they may have a second problem:
The Cobalt recall for this issue does not apply to all states, and their car may have been originally sold in Mississippi, which means it would not be on the recall list.
The NHTSA is currently investigating whether the Cobalt fuel pump recall should be expanded, but at this point fewer than half of all states qualify for a free repair.
This is common with rust recalls, where often only states north of Kentucky and Virginia qualify, and southern cars do not qualify, even if they have the same rust problem.
What you can do
So what can you do if your dealer declines a recall repair?
- Check with another dealer, which may be willing to work on a flood or salvage car.
- Contact the manufacturer.
- File a complaint with NHTSA.gov.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) says a salvage title is not a valid reason to refuse recall coverage, except in rare cases where the car is no longer driveable.
Meantime, we are contacting both the dealer and GM to see if there may be any other recourse for the VanHooks.
"You know, my daughter's driving that car," Ryan VanHook said.
One final caution: If you are buying a used car, be aware that salvage cars are high risk.
They can have bad welds, and other safety issues, while flood-damaged cars can have frame rot and other serious rust issues.
Think twice before buying a salvage or flood titled car, no matter how cheap, so you don't waste your money.
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