Recall – the mere words strike fear into the hearts and minds of safety-conscious parents everywhere.  After all, no one wants to hear that there is a potential problem with their carseat – a product that they’ve entrusted to protect their child’s life.  But for child restraint manufacturers, recalls are more than just product issues.  Recalls are usually costly and chock full of bad publicity.  In short, recalls are bad for business.

But recalls are also a part of the business and almost every manufacturer has to face a recall issue sooner or later.  Truthfully, not all recalls are for serious, life-threatening problems although some clearly are.    A child restraint could be recalled for having a small hole in the armrest (probably for attaching the cup holder) if enough kids get a finger stuck in that hole.  A seat could also be recalled for having an incorrect phone number listed on the label.  Labeling errors are actually pretty common but rarely are they a safety concern.  

For example, if the carseat is one that “is certified for use in motor vehicles and aircraft” then the label is required to state that.  But it’s also required to state that in red lettering.  If someone, somewhere, screws up and that wording winds up printed in black or yellow, or any color other than red, then… you guessed it – the seat will be recalled for failing to comply with federal standards.     

Meanwhile, every store around the country that carried that particular carseat will probably have a big “WANTED – DEAD OR ALIVE” recall notice with a picture of the culprit hanging in the aisle – alerting consumers to the failure of that product to comply with Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards.  I bet the money spent on that recall campaign could buy a whole lot of red ink.  And probably a few years worth of gas and groceries too.   

It just seems ridiculous that all recalls get lumped together and there is no differentiating between a misdemeanor and a felony.  How many parents get totally freaked out because of some minor issue that has nothing to do with the safety of their child restraint?  I’d hate to think that anyone stopped using a carseat or decided to use a different, inappropriate seat because of a recall that was relatively trivial.

On the flip side, there are plenty of legitimately scary recalls that can affect the product’s ability to protect children in crashes.  Almost every manufacturer has to deal with something that falls into this category sooner or later.  No product or production process, no matter how good,  is guaranteed to be flawless 100% of the time.  

What REALLY matters in these situations is how the manufacturer responds once it becomes apparent that there is a problem (or at least the potential for a problem).  Do they issue a recall right away – hopefully before children are injured – or do they wait?  You’d be surprised and appalled at how often and how long some manufacturers have waited before they finally recalled the faulty product.  Maybe they think they’ll get away with sweeping problems and complaints under the rug (and maybe they do get away with it sometimes).  Or maybe they’re hoping to squeeze a little more profit out of sales of that product, especially if it’s a good seller, before it all goes south with negative publicity from the recall.  As horrifying as it is to think about – it’s easy to see how there might be resistance at some level to doing the right thing in these cases.  Companies aren’t in the do-the-right-thing business.  They’re in business to make money by selling their products.  And when profit margins are thin – it doesn’t take much to wipe them out.    I’m not trying to justify these practices – just trying to offer possible motives for some of the poor decisions that have been made over the years.  

I really want to avoid pointing fingers at any particular manufacturers or products but there have been many recalls over the last 10 years that really make me question the ethics of the people in charge as well as the competence of the engineers who design these child restraints.   

However, I also have to say that there have been a lot of properly handled recalls over the same period that help to reaffirm my faith.  A timely and appropriate response combined with good customer service can really go a long way to calm fears.  Obviously, the more severe the problem or defect, the more it will take to regain the trust of consumers.  But good customer service is always the best place to start whenever there’s a problem.  Well, that and an acceptable solution to whatever the problem is.  I’ve seen some really lame “solutions” to recall issues over the years but that’s a topic for a whole different blog entry.      

So, what can consumers do to protect their children from faulty child restraint products?  Spending a lot of money on a CR doesn’t necessarily make it less likely to be recalled although budget seats may cut more corners and use cheaper  components.  Really, the best protection is to be an educated consumer.   Whenever possible, buy products from manufacturers who have a reputation for recalling seats quickly when problems arise and handling the problem with good customer service.   It is also critical that you register your child restraint with the manufacturer so that you will be notified in the case of a recall.  And if you move – don’t forget to call them and update your contact info.  

If you’d like to check your child restraint (or even an integrated child safety seat that came with the vehicle) for recalls - there are several resources available.  Here are links to the 3 most popular:

www.carseat.org/Recalls/recall.shtml  

http://www-odi.nhtsa.dot.gov/recalls/childseat.cfm 

http://www.hsrc.unc.edu/safety_info/child_passenger_safety/hsrc_child_restraint_recalls.pdf

Keep in mind that recalls may occur long after the product has been purchased so check one of those lists often or sign up for email notifications of new child restraint recalls here:  http://www-odi.nhtsa.dot.gov/subscriptions/index.cfm