CHARLOTTE, N.C. - General Motors has two major recalls underway right now, including one blamed for at least 13 deaths.
Terry DiBattista lost her daughter, Amber, in 2005.
"She was a ray of sunshine. She was my sunshine," she said.
DiBattista had just bought Amber a new Chevy Cobalt. A month later, she said, the ignition slipped, Amber crashed, and the airbags didn't work. Terry remembers talking to the ambulance driver.
"And I said, 'Is it bad?' and he said, 'Yes, ma'am.'"
GM now admits it knew about the ignition switch problem before then. Still, it waited 10 years to recall those cars with the ignition switch issue.
Many recalled vehicles never get fixed. Even worse, some get sold to unsuspecting buyers. Carfax thinks that happened 100,000 times last year in North Carolina alone.
The NC Consumers Council says, "We conducted an informal 'study' in 2005, 2009 and in 2011 with our members and the public. We found consistently that about 1 in 3 vehicles purchased from an independent used car dealership had at least one open recall at the time of sale and at least half of those recalled vehicles had been recalled more than two years prior. In contrast, only about 1 in 12 used vehicles purchased from a franchised dealer and 1 in 100 new vehicles purchased from a franchised dealer had open recalls at the time of sale."
"Those are the ones we know about and those are the ones that are just online," said spokesman Chris Basso. "That doesn't take into account the vehicles that are being sold off-line and are being driven every day. So, really, that 100,000 is just the tip of the iceberg."
So Action 9's Jason Stoogenke looked up cars for sale in the Charlotte area. Stoogenke checked their VINs for ones which were involved in the GM recall, but hadn't been repaired yet.
Then, a WSOC producer visited those dealerships and asked questions any customer might ask.
None of the salespeople brought up the recalls on their own. When the producer brought up the topic, most dealers did acknowledge the recalls, like RideNow Motors in Monroe:
Producer: "What was actually the issue?"
Salesperson One: "The switch."
Salesperson Two: "The ignition switch."
Other dealers said they weren't sure, but would check, like Select Auto on Albemarle Road. The salesperson printed a report and read it with the producer:
Salesperson: "I know there's [a recall] here."
Producer: "Is that what this is? I think this is the one right here."
Salesperson: "Yeah, it probably is that...It shows [it on] the front [of the paperwork] here too."
Wholesale Direct in Mooresville said it didn't know, but, "We would want to double check though, definitely. Better safe than sorry, right?"
It did check and, then, texted the producer the car was "part of the recall and is going in tomorrow to be fixed."
Action 9 checked back. Wholesale Direct sent proof it did take the car to a Chevy dealer, but apparently the dealer was still waiting on parts.
But, at the RideNow Motors Charlotte location, the salesperson downplayed the recalls, even the ignition problem blamed for 13 deaths.
"They're not even calling it a major recall," he said.
Then, minutes later, he seems to say this car isn't part of the recall at all:
Salesperson: "If there was a recall, if it came up while we were doing our inspection, we'd send it to the Chevy dealership."
Producer: "And you've done that already?"
Salesperson: "If there's a recall on it, yeah. But there's not a recall."
"It's not like someone's going to fall off the car or anything like that," the salesperson said.
When Action 9 told RideNow Motors what the producer found, the business said it appreciated the heads up, but didn't want to comment. Legally, dealers don't have to volunteer recall information.
DiBattista wishes they would anyway:
Stoogenke: "Do you expect more from them?"
Stoogenke: "Do you expect them to be more responsive, more forthcoming?"
DiBattista: "Absolutely. Absolutely. This is human lives we're talking about."
She's talking about lives, like Amber's. A few weeks ago, GM sent DiBattista a letter. It was a recall notice, saying DiBattista needs to get her car fixed before something happens -- the car Amber was driving nine years ago.
The bottom line is do the research yourself. Check the VIN to see if the car's been recalled or repaired. You can go to http://www-odi.nhtsa.dot.gov/owners/SearchSafetyIssues or call 1-888-DASH-2-DOT to see if the vehicle has had problems or recalls reported. It's free. You can also check out Carfax for a free Carfax report.
If you have one of the vehicles under recall for the power steering issue: if the power steering fails, you can still steer manually, it's just more difficult. If you have one of the vehicles under recall for the ignition switch issue, keep as few things on your key ring as possible (the weight makes a difference).
The exact vehicles in the GM recalls are:
Power steering (1.3 million vehicles):
2004-2005, some 2006, some 2008-2009 Chevy Malibu
2004-2005, some 2006 Chevy Malibu Maxx
Some 2009-2010 Chevy HHR
Some 2010 Chevy Cobalt
2005, some 2006, some 2008-2009 Pontiac G6
Some 2008-2009 Saturn Aura
2004-2007 Saturn Ion
Ignition switch (2.6 million vehicles):
2005-1010 Chevy Cobalt
2006-2011 Chevy HHR
2007-2010 Pontiac G5
2006-2010 Pontiac Solstice
2003-2007 Saturn Ion
2007-2010 Saturn Sky