Hidden camera: Millions of vehicles with unfixed safety recalls on Ohio roads and used car lots

An exclusive 5 On Your Side Investigation reveals there are more than 2 million used vehicles on the road across Ohio with unfixed safety recalls that are not required to be disclosed to potential buyers.

Many of these wind up on used car lots across the state and if not disclosed, buyers can purchase vehicles that could potentially catch fire, cause airbags to explode, and cause power steering and brake failure.

Hidden camera

For example, our exclusive hidden camera investigation found at least nine vehicles for sale on one west side Cleveland used car lot with vehicle identification numbers that matched active recalls, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

You can find out if your vehicle or a vehicle you want to buy has an active safety recall here

Auto Expo III on Lorain Avenue

In addition, we found an employee at Auto Expo III on Lorain Avenue did not have a valid license to sell vehicles in Ohio — a potential crime under state law.

Our investigation found 62-year-old Gary Shell served time in prison 10 years ago for cheating car customers at another car lot, and his license was subsequently revoked.

Even so, our hidden camera captured Shell on three separate occasions escorting potential customers across the lot — displaying vehicles, features, pricing and financing. On each occasion, Shell vouched for the vehicles' condition and safety, but failed to disclose safety recalls.

When we approached Shell for an explanation, he fled the lot and closed the door on our questions. And it’s perfectly legal — salespersons and dealers are not required to disclose recall information.

It's legal

And it’s perfectly legal — salespersons and dealers are not required to disclose recall information.

Despite this, both the Ohio Automobile Dealers Association (OADA) and the Ohio Independent Auto Dealers Association (OIADA) urge members to disclose safety and recall information.

OIADA Executive Director Wendy Rinehart said failure to disclose is “completely unacceptable.” She also said more than 5,000 association members across the state practice a strict code of ethics as members.

“We stress to our members that disclosure is key — consumers have to be made aware of what’s going with the car before buying,” Rinehart said.

However, there are scores of corner lot car dealers that are not members, increasing the risk that consumers could go uninformed.

Auto Expo III is not a member of the OIADA or OADA.

Meanwhile, groups like CARFAX that track vehicle history and safety say they are among several that can assist car buyers to uncover potential safety recalls before buying.

Ask before buying

According to CARFAX, there are more than 2.3 million unfixed recalls on the road right now across Ohio — that’s roughly 1 in 4 cars on the road. This is a 26.3 percent increase from 2016, in which there were more than 1.8 million unfixed recalled vehicles across the state.

There are 717,000 unfixed recalls in Cleveland alone, with minivans and SUVs most likely to have unfixed recalls.

“Exploding airbags, something that can cause a crash, a fire — real safety issues,” CARFAX’s Chris Basso said. “But unless you’re asking about it, the seller is not required to disclose that information to you.”

Neal Assad is the owner of Auto Expo III and said he was not aware of recalls involving cars on his lot and insisted his employee, Gary Shell, was not selling cars and is employed solely as office help.

You can view an interactive heat map and list of cities in each state with the largest percentage of recalled vehicles here

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