Recalls are imprecise and never fully successful, but how can they be improved? Jeff Gelles of the Philadelphia Inquirer took a look at the recall problem with snow throwers manufactured by a company called MTD, and sold under Yard Machines, Troy-Bilt, and Craftsman brands. The snow throwers used plastic wheel rims which sometimes exploded, so in 2006 the company cooperated with the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) and announced a recall.
The CPSC considered the recall a success because by the middle of 2009 it had reached more than 65% of customers. But earlier this month, a man’s 12-year-old son suffered a scratched cornea from an exploding MTD wheel rim, which was on a snow thrower the man had bought just two months ago in December 2009. Clearly something isn’t working with this recall.
Gelles talked to the CPSC, counsel for MTD, a consumer advocate, and a lawyer who has successfully settled claims against MTD on behalf of nine people injured by exploding wheel rims. Here are some of the things he found:
- During a recall, the company usually just contacts those consumers who have bothered to send in their contact information. If you don’t register, they won’t know how to contact you.
- When injured consumers settle with companies over things like this, the settlement almost always comes with a gag order, which protects the company in the short term but squelches any opportunity to publicize the recall.
- The CPSC has a large database of injury reports, and could use it to look for patterns and call for targeted recalls across product lines.
What that doesn’t explain is why MTD is still manufacturing snow throwers with plastic wheel rims, or alternatively why older models that should have been pulled are still being sold in mom & pop hardware stores.
As far as protecting yourself, the best way to make sure companies know how to contact you is to register the product. It’s true, this would be easier to do if companies respected registration info and kept it out of their marketing departments, but getting on their mailing list may be your best bet. (You can always ask them to stop marketing to you after you’ve registered–an annoying extra step, I know.)
You can also add CPSC recall feeds to your RSS reader, and check it periodically. It’s boring, but it’s not hard to skim a dozen headlines in an RSS feed every week or so to see what’s been added to the might-explode-in-your-face list.
“Consumer 10.0: Flaws in the recall system” [Philadelphia Inquirer]