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Biggest Auto Dealer Network Says It Won’t Sell Recalled Vehicles

The nation’s largest automotive dealer network says it will no longer sell new or used vehicles subject to a recall until they have been repaired.

The announcement by Ft. Lauderdale, Florida-based AutoNation comes as the number of safety-related recalls has been surging to record levels. But while the U.S. Senate recently passed a measure that would force rental companies to pull recalled vehicles out of their fleets pending repairs, dealers were not required to take similar actions before selling such vehicles. And the House has yet to take action on its own version of the rental bill.

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"There's no way to expect that customers would or should know of every safety recall on every vehicle they might purchase, so we will ensure that our vehicles have all recalls completed," said AutoNation CEO Mike Jackson. "We make it our responsibility as a retailer to identify those vehicles and remove them from the market until their safety issues have been addressed."

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The move comes as both automotive regulators and auto manufacturers take more aggressive action on safety problems in the wake of several high-profile defects. That includes a faulty ignition switch at General Motors linked to 124 deaths, as well as the ongoing recall of millions of vehicles using potentially defective Takata air bags.

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All told about 64 million vehicles were recalled in 2014, about twice the previous record, and the pace hasn’t slowed this year.

AutoNation’s announcements comes as “a historic commitment to safety,” said Rosemary Shahan, president of the advocacy group Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety (CARS). CARS has been a major force behind the Raechel and Jacqueline Houck Safe Rental Car Act that passed the Senate in July.

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Named for two sisters killed in 2004, when an unrepaired defect caused their rental car to spin out of control, the measure was included in the Senate version of a six-year federal transportation bill. It notably excluded dealers from having to make repairs before selling a recalled vehicle, focusing only on rentals. The House is expected to take up the bill now that lawmakers have returned to Washington.

But Shahan says the “huge breakthrough” of having AutoNation voluntarily stop sales until recalled vehicles are repaired could put pressure on the rest of the industry to take similar action. The Florida company operates 293 automotive retail outlets across the country.

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