Considering the frequency with which automakers have recalled cars so far in 2014, you might think that the recall system was a raging success. After all, who hasn’t heard of at least one major recall this year? It seems that nearly every major car company has had at least one: Toyota, Honda, Mazda, Chrysler, Ford, Dodge, Nissan, Cadillac, Mercedes Benz, BMW, and of course General Motors (GM), with its high-profile recalls of millions of vehicles.
Yet the cars themselves aren’t the only dangers. What about recalled parts, like tires, which continue to remain on our streets long after the first announcements are issued? For months after recalls, defective tires continue to endanger everyone on the road and illustrate something we would all like to forget – that our nation’s safety recall system regularly underperforms, at times to the point of being a total failure.
Can you say, without a doubt, that you are 100 percent certain that the tires on your car right now have never been recalled? Do you even know what type, size, and brand of tires are on your car at the moment? Photo Credit: Corbis Images.
A Deadly Problem
Once upon a time, a tire was recalled for safety reasons. These tires were to be replaced on vehicles and removed from store shelves. The goal was to get them off the road permanently.
But that didn’t happen. Four months after the recall, a fatal Florida accident that killed two church leaders and injured several youth church members was linked to the tires, according to ABC News. Apparently, neither the church which owned the van nor the mechanic was aware that the tire was dangerous or was supposed to be replaced, despite the recall. Investigative reporters did some digging, only to find that the dangerous, recalled tires were still for sale in multiple cities.
The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the incident and the larger issue of how recalled tires remain on the road, but really, should any of this have been such a surprise? “Only about one out of five recalled tires is actually returned to the manufacturer,” ABC News reported.
The other 80 percent of those dangerous tires must be out there somewhere. Photo Credit: Corbis Images.
Reflecting Larger Recall Failures
Of course tire safety matters. Tire problems result in hundreds of deaths each year. Yet this tragic accident and the recall that should have prevented it (but didn’t) simply reflects a frightening landscape of recalls across all product types. Recalls of consumer products, too, have an abysmal success rate. Less than one-third of all recalled consumer products ever make it back to their manufacturers, according to Today. The rest remain at large, likely to harm an unsuspecting consumer.
Even with major purchases and major recalls, the success rate is slim. Take the massive GM recall of 2,600,000 cars for faulty ignition switches that could cut off power to the engine, steering, and airbags. GM is optimistic that 80 percent of the recalled cars will eventually be fixed, but more critical experts expect the number to be closer to half, CNN reported. Even if 90 percent of the recalled cars are repaired, that would still leave a quarter of a million dangerous vehicles on the road.
Why We Don’t Notice Recalls
Most people consider tires a relatively large purchase, one that costs hundreds of dollars. But what about the smaller purchases you make – things like children’s toys, over-the-counter medications, groceries, beauty products, and home items? You may not think twice about purchasing these everyday items. For many of them, you probably don’t even keep your receipt. There’s no record of your purchase and no registration on the product. If it’s ever found to pose a serious safety hazard, you won’t know about it – not unless you happen to hear about the recall on the news. By the time that happens, there’s a good chance you’ve already disposed of the packaging and couldn’t check your purchased item against the recalled item even if you wanted to.
Even if you receive a mailed or emailed notice about a recall, will you act on it? Every day, consumers are so bombarded by spam and advertising materials that it’s as though corporate America has cried wolf. Even when our companies have something legitimately urgent to say, we’re conditioned to believe they’re just trying to sell us on another product. Important notices slip through the cracks when our mailboxes are too full of junk mail.
At least some of the blame falls on what ABC News called a “badly-flawed and archaic government recall system,” but perhaps the problem isn’t so easy to solve. After all, do you want corporations or the government tracking your every purchase, even more than they already do? Short of requesting an I.D. for every single purchase, no matter how small, it’s hard to envision a recall system that would be truly effective in making sure that every purchaser of a product knows about relevant recalls. The only sure way to get dangerous products out of the hands of consumers is to stop them from ever getting to the market in the first place. Once defective products are out there, by become a danger to us all – especially if recall procedures aren’t followed thoroughly.