A little over a year ago, AutoNation made a very bold move. In the wake of headline-dominating recalls from General Motors and Takata and more than a little public pressure, America's largest vehicle retailer vowed to fix every recalled used car on its lots.
But that was before Donald Trump won the U.S. presidential election, when it was still possible that Congress might pass a law that required used car dealers to repair recalled vehicles before selling them to consumers. Given Trump's anti-regulatory leanings and the Republican-led Congress, AutoNation has now reneged on its promise.
When AutoNation announced its policy--to some fanfare, frankly--the company touted its "customers first" policy. It issued a statement that read, in part:
"A blanket commitment not to sell vehicles subject to a safety recall is not without cost, as adequate parts are not always immediately available, and AutoNation must hold the vehicles in inventory until they are repaired. The company insists that their customers' protection is worth the investment in the process. They believe that the decision to do so is ultimately the right one, and economic considerations must take a back seat to safety concerns." [emphasis ours]
It wouldn't be quite fair to say that AutoNation's economic considerations have kicked safety concerns out of the car, but balance sheets are clearly in the driver's seat. The company now says that if parts are available to fix a recalled vehicle, it'll be fixed. If those parts aren't around, though, the car will still be sold. AutoNation says that it still makes a point of informing consumers about open recalls on used cars.
Had Clinton won the election, and had she been able to navigate through a GOP-dominated Congress, the U.S. might've implemented a federal law prohibiting used car dealers from selling vehicles with open recalls. As it is, however, AutoNation was the only major retailer to implement a fix-it-or-park-it policy, and that policy was eating into the company's revenue--thanks in no small part to the number of Takata recalls and the lack of replacement parts. With no federal mandate on the horizon, AutoNation has backed away from its stance.
That said, there will probably come a day when used car companies are forced to repair recalled cars, just as rental companies have been ordered to do. For safety advocates, AutoNation's turnabout is a setback, but there's likely to be more to the story.