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I'm looking for a used Honda Fit and, while there was one on the lot, the dealer said he couldn't sell it because it had been recalled due to the Takata airbag issue. Are dealers legally not allowed to sell vehicles that are subject to a safety recall until the problem is fixed? – T., Toronto

Dealers are allowed to sell a car that's been recalled and not fixed – but some car companies play it on the safe side.

"Honda Canada is working with its dealers to help ensure that Takata airbag inflators in vehicles affected by a recall, are replaced as soon as possible," said Alen Sadeh, Honda Canada spokesman, in an e-mail. "In addition to other measures being taken to promote inflator replacement in affected vehicles, Honda Canada has put policies in place to help ensure that affected new and used units have Takata airbag inflators replaced prior to sale."

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To date, more than 4.3 million Takata airbag inflators have been subject to a recall in Canada because of the potential to spray the cabin with metal – although there's never been an incident here, Transport Canada said.

"The risk to Canadians is low since the defect is linked to long exposure to high humidity and temperatures," said the Transport Canada website.

Because the recall is so big – more than 100 million vehicles from 14 manufacturers need airbag inflators replaced after 11 reported deaths in the United States – companies don't know when replacement airbags will be available.

Total recall

If your car has been recalled for any reason, the dealer has to send you a letter – if it can find you. After that, it's up to you to get it fixed.

"Once a recall has been issued in Canada, the obligation to ensure recall work is carried out on a particular vehicle is with the vehicle owner," said Natasha Gauthier, Transport Canada spokeswoman, in an e-mail. "Should the owner be a new or used car dealership, it would be responsible."

The provinces, and not Transport Canada, decide the rules for sales and registration. While rules vary, generally, there are no bans on selling or registering a recalled vehicle that hasn't been fixed.

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"Such a vehicle can be sold, registered … and driven on the road," said Ontario's Ministry of Transportation (MTO) in an e-mail.

There is no Ontario regulation that would prevent a dealer from selling a vehicle with an outstanding safety recall, said the Ontario Motor Vehicle Industry Council (OMVIC), the province's sales regulator.

"However a dealer can certainly exercise his or her discretion and refuse to sell a vehicle with an outstanding safety recall," said OMVIC spokesman Terry O'Keefe in an e-mail. "Additionally, a manufacturer could issue a 'stop sale order' to its franchisees."

Dealers must disclose

While Ontario dealers can sell recalled vehicles, they're supposed to tell you about the recall, O'Keefe said.

"Dealers are required to disclose in writing any material fact about a vehicle's past-use, history or condition to a purchaser or lessee," O'Keefe said. "Outstanding recalls related to serious issues of vehicle safety meet this test and, where possible, should be disclosed in writing on the bill of sale."

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If you're buying from an individual, they don't have to tell you about the recall. But you should find out on your own whether your car has any, the MTO said.

"We encourage consumers considering the purchase of a used vehicle to review vehicle safety recall information available on the Transport Canada website and to contact the vehicle dealer directly to confirm if recalls listed on the site, for their particular vehicle, have been completed," the MTO said.

Once you do buy a used car, it's a good idea to register with the car maker so they notify you of recalls. Otherwise, any recall notices may go to the previous owner. In Canada, companies have to send out a notice within 60 days of identifying the problem.

But, a recall doesn't mean that there's a fix available.

In the United States, actor Anton Yelchin was mailed a letter that a repair was available for a rollover risk for his Jeep Grand Cherokee a week after he was crushed to death by it.

Companies can stop dealers from selling certain cars even if there hasn't been a safety recall. For example, after Dieselgate, Volkswagen Canada isn't including TDI diesels in its certified pre-owned (CPO) program.

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"Volkswagen dealers are not selling TDI-powered cars within our CPO program," Volkswagen Canada spokesman Thomas Tetzlaff said in an e-mail. "Outside of the program they, like any other dealer or individual, can sell them."

Have a driving question? Send it to globedrive@globeandmail.com. Canada's a big place, so let us know where you are so we can find the answer for your city and province.

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