Tuesday

The Danger of Geographic Recalls


In yesterday's blog post we talked about How Recalls Happen and explained the Nhtsa safety investigation and recall process, but the fact is that federal safety investigators rarely force a vehicle manufacturer to recall a vehicle, although they do have to power if they want to use it.

When things get bad enough, the federal safety investigators at Nhtsa can force a manufacturer to recall a bad motor vehicle and they call this a "Defect Petition" or "Recall Petition." If Nhtsa’s position is justified, federal safety investigators open this most serious investigation but the truth is that it rarely gets this far.

Part of the reason is the very conservative position taken on enforcing safety laws by the current and recent Nhtsa regulators. A good example of this less than stellar performance is Nhtsa's decision to allow manufacturers to make regional or "geographic recalls." The concept started in 1985 when Reagan's conservative politicians were in charge but, like any bad idea that gets a toehold, it never really went away. We wrote about this back in 2006, in an article called "We Don't Need No Stinkin' Regulations" and the problem has only gotten worse.

This isn't like the manufacturer's secret warranty programs, which by the way Chrysler has admitted is a cost that is built into the price of every new car and truck even though no one tells you about it and you don't have a right to get what you are paying for. Regional recalls are recalls that are only sent to vehicle owners in one region of the United States, but not to people who own the exact same vehicle but live somewhere else in the US.

By 2002, there had been 37 geographic recalls affecting over 20 million vehicles, and it hasn't stopped. A prime example of why geographic recalls are bad are the Ford Aerostars and Windstars fuel tanks that could crack in high temperatures, causing dangerous fuel and vapor leaks. The stupidity of geographic recalls was at its height here. Ford vans in LA and Santa Barbara county were recalled but not those in Death Valley, where the average yearly temperature was 15 degrees hotter than Santa Barbara.

Federal safety officials at Nhtsa sat by idly and allowed Ford to label balmy Santa Barbara a hotter spot than Death Valley. The same thing occurred with corrosion recalls on the Ford Taurus which covered northern US states but not Georgia and California where the same defect was reportedly the cause of more than one auto accident when corroded subframe bolts gave way. Same thing again with GM tailgates that could drop off trucks.

R.H., in Europe, emailed me today to talk about the GM tailgate regional recall (his sister has a GM S-10 truck). He very accurately pointed out that perhaps the biggest danger with the tailgates was that a person climbing in or out of the truck bed could be severely injured if one or both cables fail while the person is standing on the tailgate. He pointed out that it "must be something like standing on the trap door of a gallows when the trap is sprung ... the acceleration of the fallilng body and the rotation imparted to the body by the sloping off of the door as it falls, and then any abrupt stop when the tailgate hits either the end of its travel, or the bumper, will cause the person to pitch in a way that few would be able to recover from."

Gruesomely accurate I'd bet. At least if the tailgate drops off while driving down the highway, the next driver has a chance to avoid the bouncing tailgate. If you're standing on it when it collapses, about all you can do is get our your hospital insurance card.

The federal law which created Nhtsa treats all vehicles the same regardless of where they are sold or registered. Given the mobility of our society, that makes good sense. Geographic recalls help manufacturers save money for Wall Street investment groups, at the expense of your safety and mine. And Nhtsa bureaucrats let them get away with it.

It's time to stop. Write Nhtsa, 400 Seventh St. SW, Washington, DC 20590 and complain. Tell them you don't want to buy a used car in your home town that didn't get recall work done on it just because it was licensed somewhere else at the time the recall was announced. Write your congress person too.

The more you complain to Nhtsa and your congress person, the more likely it is that someone will finally listen and change the system. After all, you are the person paying for this recall system.

If you've got a bad vehicle with a problem the manufacturer won't fix, recall or not, contact us. We can help. It's what we do. Everyday.