The Safety Institute (TSI) has discovered that some manufacturers – including an ATV maker with models that catch fire – are bypassing the recall process of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) by directly offering repairs or remedies to customers who complain about a defect.
These maneuvers are also known as silent recalls: a manufacturer tries to address a safety problem by offering a safety fix or new product without notifying the appropriate government agency and working with them on the mandated recall process. It’s not an accepted industry practice nor condoned industry-wide. Nonetheless, circumventing the recalls process is a significant potential consumer safety issue.
While researching consumer complaints in the Saferproducts.gov database we found seven manufacturers offering remedies directly to consumers in response to their complaints registered in the database. The products ranged from an ATV, a child’s backpack carrier, a crib/toddler bed, patio heater, portable heater, electric scooter and a treadmill. The repairs ranged from repair kits to advice on how to repair a potential defect.
And these recalls are not so silent – all of these incidents were found on CPSC’s website. Saferproducts.gov, monitored by the CPSC, is designed to capture consumer complaints and potential safety defects. It appears it has also been used to sidestep the recall process without somehow eliciting a red flag from agency staff. The CPSC did not respond to TSI’s questions about specific examples. Instead, Alex Filip, CPSC’s Deputy Director, Office of Information and Public Affairs, said:
“CPSC’s Office of Compliance has and continues to initiate a number of investigations as a result of manufacturer comments posted on SaferProducts.gov and other internet review sites.”
Bypassing the Recall
One of the most egregious defects concerns an ATV, manufactured by Hisun Motors Corp, USA, with an unshielded exhaust system which could result in a vehicle fire. The issue was communicated to the CPSC staff by an ATV dealer who called the CPSC hotline to report the incident and the repair kit. The staffer registered the complaint and the repair into the saferproducts.gov database.
Here’s the consumer complaint from saferproducts.gov:
“The dealer stated that the driver came home and parked the ATV on his driveway. The driver turned off the engine and about 10 minutes later, he noticed smoke and flames coming from the rear of the ATV. The dealer stated that within 45 seconds, the ATV had engulfed in flames. The driver had driven the ATV on the day of the incident for 30 miles. The dealer and the driver believe that the incident occurred due to the unshielded exhaust. The dealer stated that the unshielded exhaust caused the rear floor panels to melt, lower down, and ignite.”
Here’s what the dealer told CPSC about the manufacturer’s response:
“The manf informed the dealer that they were aware of the problem and that all of the newer models were being sent out with a repair kit. The dealer was also sent a repair kit for another model he has in his shop. The dealer stated that the kit includes a whole new exhaust system that is shielded. The dealer stated that he has the leftover metal frame of the ATV that ignited. There are no recalls on this vehicle.”
The second serious example involves the Kelty Pathfinder backpack child carrier, manufactured by American Recreation Products. This product designed for children 16 to 40 pounds, apparently has straps that aren’t maintaining their integrity. Again, the manufacturer admits to the problem and offers a free replacement. There is no recall for this product and the replacement has not been tested by the CPSC.
Here’s the consumer complaint:
Kelty Pathfinder red straps disintegrated. All buckles attached with the red straps just pop off.
Here’s the response from American Recreation Products, Inc.:
This does appear to be a quality issue we are experiencing with this product. It also appears to be limited to Child Carriers with the red strapping, we’re thinking a “lot” issue. Anyone experiencing this product can contact Kelty Customer Service for a free replacement.
“Manufacturers are skirting the CPSC requirements in plain view. The Commission needs to take a firm stance on this issue to ensure that all consumers get the benefit of recall repair on known defects,” said Sean Kane, founder and president of the board of directors of The Safety Institute.
The Recall Process
When a product has a suspected defect that could lead to injury or death, the manufacturer must report the problem to the CPSC as soon as they learn of it. Often, they learn through testing or they discover it when consumers contact them with possible product defect issues.
No matter how the potential hazard is discovered, manufacturers have an obligation to report to the CPSC in a timely manner when there is reason to believe a substantial product hazard exists. According to the CPSC’s recall handbook, the reporting requirements are as follows:
“A. Section 15(b) of the Consumer Product Safety Act establishes reporting requirements for manufacturers, importers, distributors and retailers of consumer products, or other product or substances distributed in commerce over which the Commission has jurisdiction. Each must notify the Commission immediately if it obtains information which reasonably supports the conclusion that a product distributed in commerce (1) fails to comply with an applicable consumer product safety rule or with a voluntary consumer product safety standard upon which the Commission has relied under section 9, (2) fails to comply with any other rule, regulation, standard or ban under the CPSA or any other Act enforced by the Commission, (3) contains a defect which could create a substantial product hazard, or (4) creates an unreasonable risk of serious injury or death.
Section 15 requires firms to report “immediately.” This means that a firm should notify the Commission within 24 hours of obtaining information described in section A.1.”
If the product is a potential safety danger to consumers the CPSC will work with the manufacturer on a remedy. There are three possible remedies – recall, replace or repair. If there is a repair kit involved it is analyzed by CPSC engineers and they approve the kit/fix before it is offered to consumers. In other cases, the product is pulled completely and refunds or replacements are offered.
TSI informed the CPSC about the incidents above – along with others in which a manufacturer has acknowledged a defect and has offered a repair or remedy. TSI has no problem with manufacturers offering repairs for defective products. But it is not sufficient to simply reach out to consumers offering a remedy, repair or replacement. This needs to happen within the recall system. Repairs offered only after a product fails do not prevent the next injury or death, and prevention is at the heart of the recall system.
We urge the CPSC to examine these incidents and act.