If you’ve seen The Today Show lately, you know they’ve been spending the week trying to break Guinness World Records. Like yesterday, someone beat the “most shaved heads in an hour” record. Today, it was the “largest exercise ball class” record. (Who thinks of these things?) Sadly, the woman in heels failed to pull a 15,000 pound truck but she did shout out a few expletives live on the air so let's give her credit for that!)
Tomorrow, perhaps they should feature GM and Toyota car executives. I’m not quite sure who holds the Guinness World Record for most recalled cars in a year, but I do know there’s a record out there and with the help of these two companies, we are on course for breaking it.
Actually, the Associated Press is reporting today that so far this year in the U.S., about 9 million vehicles have been recalled. That includes about 5.6 million GM cars and SUVs, and 2.85 million Toyotas.” Notes AP, “If that pace continues, the nation would break the record of 30.8 million recalled vehicles set in 2004.” And who knows, the pace might pick up?
Why this year? Well, notes Clarence Ditlow, executive director of the nonprofit Center for Auto Safety, "automakers historically have been quick to fix safety problems when faced with government investigations and bad publicity", which kind of defines 2014. Says Ditlow, "The manufacturers as a whole look through their inventory of defective vehicles and recall some of the ones that they had passed over before." (What a reassuring system.) So for example yesterday,
Toyota announced it was recalling nearly 1.8 million vehicles in the U.S. to fix a spate of problems, including air bags that might not inflate.” …
Toyota's latest recalls were announced before the company even developed specific repairs. They come two weeks after the Justice Department skewered the Japanese automaker for covering up problems that caused unintended acceleration in some cars starting in 2009. Toyota agreed to pay $1.2 billion to settle that case, but federal prosecutors can resurrect a wire fraud charge if the company fails to comply with the terms of the settlement.
Toyota's actions come as rival GM recalls 2.6 million small cars for defective ignition switches the company links to at least 13 deaths. Of those, 2.2 million are in the U.S. As that crisis unfolded, GM announced recalls of another 3.4 million U.S. vehicles.
GM is facing a Justice Department investigation, and last week its new CEO was grilled by Congress over its handling of the ignition recalls. It also faces fines of $7,000 per day for missing a deadline to answer questions from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Meanwhile, if you are still driving a GM car with a faulty ignition, the company is telling you it’s OK to drive it as long as you don’t have a lot of extra stuff on your key ring.
It is advice that has infuriated some lawmakers, confused some drivers and even become a source of jokes for comedians on television. Senator Richard Blumenthal, Democrat of Connecticut, has noted, citing G.M.'s own filing with regulators, that bumps and potholes can still jar the ignition, causing the vehicle to turn off. But the automaker’s advice has been disseminated by everyone from regulators in Washington to auto safety organizations like AAA and dealerships across the country.
We’ll see if they get away with that, because a federal judge in Corpus Christi, Tex., “is expected to rule any day on whether to issue an emergency order that would compel G.M. to warn owners of the 2.6 million recalled cars not to drive them until they are repaired.”
Meanwhile comes this disturbing real-world insight from the New York Times today:
For all the attention, there remains considerable ignorance of the issue.
Malisa Norman, a 35-year-old home health aide in Latta, S.C., was unaware of the recall when she bought a used 2007 Cobalt in February — days after the recall was announced.
A few weeks later she was driving near her home when she says the car suddenly stopped running, veered off the road and hit a tree. The air bags did not deploy, and Ms. Norman says she and her 18-year-old son were injured in the accident.
Ms. Norman purchased the car from E-Z Credit, a used-car dealership in Dillon, S.C. She said she was never told that her car had been recalled. She happened to have only a small angel ornament hanging from her key ring, but she said she had not been told there were any issues with items on a key chain. Drivers have been told by G.M. that extra weight on the car’s key ring can make a shutdown more likely.
When she returned to the dealership to complain, Ms. Norman said she was told to watch the news for recall information.
“I was like, ‘I didn’t get the car from the news,' ” she said. “Why should I get this from the news when I ain’t paying the news?”
Two administrators for E-Z Credit said they were unaware of any recall issues relating to the Cobalt.