Buying a Used Car With a Recall Notice

Tips to Protect You

2009 Kia Rio
This 2009 Kia Rio, based on information from, is not on any recall lists. Photo (c) Kia

Startling news from CarFax, who reports that "At least 1.4 million used cars that were recalled but not repaired were for sale in 2009." That is approximately 3% of used cars sold annually. It seems important to offer advice on buying a used car with a recall notice in light of that statistic.

Buying a used car with a recall notice is not automatically a bad thing. There are, however, certain steps you should take to protect yourself (as you would with any used car transaction)

  • Always do a background check. Do a check at for a list of used cars that are affected by recalls. Carfax receives open recall information for Acura, Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet, Chrysler, Dodge, Ferrari, Ford, GMC, Honda, Hummer, Hyundai, Isuzu, Jeep, Kia, Lincoln, Lotus, Maserati, Mazda, Mercedes-Benz, Mercury, Mitsubishi, Pontiac, Porsche, Saab, Saturn, Subaru, Suzuki and Volvo vehicles.
  • More detailed information about specific recall campaigns is available at www.safercar.govand Find out when the recall was issued because that will help you negotiate a price. works best if you do not have a vehicle identification number (VIN).
  • If an owner has ignored a recall on a used car for more than six months, the car is not kept in good mechanical condition, in spite of what the owner might claim. Ignoring recall notices is a bad sign and demonstrates disinterest by the owner when it comes to mechanical problems.
  • Owners who claim a used car is in good mechanical condition - but ignore recall notices - are probably hiding other problems because they didn't want to bring their used car in for service and have to pay for other work. Owners like this may be hiding other problems with quick fixes.
  • If the recall is less than six months, you can cut the owner some slack. We all know how quickly time can fly by. However, don't buy the car until the owner completes the recall work.
  • Use your knowledge of the recall to get the owner to come down on price. Shoot for at least 5% off the sticker price. Say things like, "I heard this vehicle was subject to a recall. That makes me nervous" or "This vehicle was subject to a recall. I bet other buyers will be uncomfortable buying it. I'll offer you $XXXX to buy it right now."
  • If the owner won't complete the recall work before purchase, you have two options. Walk away from the deal or figure out what your time is worth. Estimate it is going to take at least four hours of your time to get the car in for the recall service. What is four hours of your time worth? Ask for $100 to $200 off to get the work done, assuming there is a dealer that can fix it within 25 miles.

As always, before you buy any used car, have it inspected by an independent mechanic. Buy no used car that an owner will not let you inspect.

My tips on inspecting a used car will get you started but my advice should never be intended to totally supplant what a trained mechanic would say after inspecting a used car.

Go ahead and buy a used car with a recall notice. It's not automatically going to be a lemon. Plus, with a little savvy negotiation, you can save yourself some money.

Watch Now: 7 Essential Steps To Take When Buying a Used Car