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Tips for checking out a used car’s safety

The Associated Press

A March crash in Las Vegas that nearly killed a young woman exposes another problem to watch for when buying a used car.

Salvage yards and repair shops can use potentially deadly Takata air bag inflators when they repair used cars, then sell those cars to new customers. The Associated Press has found that federal laws don’t prevent reuse of air bags and other parts, and states don’t have laws preventing it either.

At least 16 people have been killed by Takata inflators worldwide and more than 180 injured. The problem touched off the biggest automotive recall in U.S. history, with

69 million inflators recalled. About 100 million have been recalled globally. Takata has been fined and faces lawsuits, and it could be driven into bankruptcy.

In the Las Vegas case, the woman’s family bought a used 2002 Honda Accord but didn’t know it had been wrecked in Arizona and repaired with a faulty Takata inflator. That inflator blew apart in a minor crash, with metal fragments striking her in the neck not far from her carotid artery.

A white 2002 Honda Accord involved in a March 3 crash in which an exploding Takata air bag inflator badly injured the driver, Karina Dorado, sits in a driveway Tuesday in Las Vegas. The incident has exposed a danger posed by the recalled parts being reused in other cars, which may then be sold to owners who have no idea the air bag inflator is faulty.

Michael Brooks, acting director of the nonprofit Center for Auto Safety, said people should be suspicious of cars with salvage titles because there is no way of knowing where the parts came from or the quality of the repair work. Although some are safe, stolen or counterfeit parts can be used, he said.

“There are just so many questions that are impossible to answer,” he said. “I would always recommend buying something that has no crash history if you can.”

There’s no way you can be certain that a used car doesn’t have a defective part. But steps you can take to protect yourself when buying a used car:

Check the history: Services such as Carfax and Autocheck keep track of major repairs made to cars. If a car has been wrecked and many parts were replaced, you might want to consider another car. Both services charge a fee for detailed checks.

Check the title: Many small dealers and others will buy cars from insurance companies that were written off as total losses. They then fix and resell them. But they can use faulty parts in the repairs. Check the car’s title. Most states require totaled cars to get a new title showing it has been salvaged or rebuilt. Carfax and Autocheck also have a car’s title history. Although some cars with salvage titles can be fine, it’s wise to be wary of them.

Ask for receipts: If you find a car that’s had extensive repairs, ask the seller for receipts to prove that new parts were used to fix it. If they can’t provide receipts, it’s best to find another car.

Get an inspection: Take the car to an independent mechanic to check for any signs that it’s been wrecked and repaired.

Source: Carfax.com, Center for Auto Safety, Associated Press research