Takata Air Bag Recall, Part 2

Back in May of this year, it was announced that Takata had recalled its air bags used in several different vehicle manufacturer’s vehicles.  According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), Takata has extended that recall to include 19 million vehicles from 12 manufacturers.  The current list of manufacturers includes BMW, Honda, Mazda, Chrysler, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Daimler Trucks North America, Daimler Vans USA, Subaru, Ford, Toyota, and General Motors.  Owners are advised to go to www.safercar.gov and click on the “Takata Recall” button on the toolbar to see of their specific vehicle is on the list of those recalled.  Note that the list is extensive and should be reviewed carefully.  The website also offers owners an option to enter their vehicle identification numbers to check for recalls.  The vehicle identification number can be found on most vehicles on the lower left corner of the windshield or the manufacturers sticker located on the inside edge of the driver’s side door or pillar.  The vehicle identification number is a seventeen digit number unique to each vehicle.  Owners can also check with their dealers for recall information.

Hyundai Sonata Recall

I just finished posting a recall to our website which talks about how Hyundai is recalling 883,000 Sonata vehicles for a defective automatic transmission shift cable. I know that there have been larger numbers of vehicles recalled by other manufacturers but, this isn’t about the numbers. It’s about whether manufacturers have learned anything. You would think that as long as cars and trucks have been built, especially here in the US, that manufacturers would have a handle on keeping problems to a minimum. But, how does a faulty ignition switch get by a company like General Motors? Ford and Chrysler have had their problems as well. One only has to do a little research to find something that had a significant impact on the company’s bottom line. Remember Ford’s electronic ignition that caused fires in F 150s back in the lat 90s? Remember the Jeep sudden acceleration/inadvertent movement that wouldn’t go away? The problems aren’t limited to American made vehicles. The Japanese have had their share of recalled vehicles as well. Remember the Toyota floor mat fiasco? If all of the people that worked for all of the world’s car manufacturers were put under one roof, there has to be an untold number of millennia of experience and yet, recalls are a part of everyone’s life.

Is Technology Changing Too Fast?

I just finished reading an article about how in the not to distant future we will have autonomous vehicles. That is to say that cars and trucks will drive themselves. The article, published by the Society of Automotive Engineers, went on to predict that autonomous vehicles would be available by the year 2020, only seven years from now. As a forensic engineer that investigates vehicular accidents, I can’t help but wonder what is going to fail that will cause these vehicles to crash. And something will FAIL. Will it be a software glitch or will some system that is supposed to detect danger miss a cue? History is littered with examples of engineering failures that have caused massive amounts of property damage as well as countless numbers of lives. Imagine traveling at some high speed and smashing into another vehicle because your vehicle, NOT YOU, failed to apply the brakes. The point to be made is that manufacturers, regardless of the industry, are all too eager to be the first to get a new product on the market. When the public starts buying the product, it’s not until then that we find out that the product has problems that have not been eliminated. What products am I talking about? Just think phones, computers, appliances, and yes, cars. I’m sure something will come to mind. Is technology changing too fast? Yes, I think so. As long as manufacturers rush to get their products to market before they are ready, we, the consumers, are going to be paying the price. As a result, I also think that those same manufacturers should be held responsible for property damage and personal injury if their products fail to perform as advertised.

Sudden/Unintended Accelerration

The problem of sudden or unintended acceleration has been around for over ten years now, mostly associated with Jeeps. But,  recently another of Toyota’s problems. Since about 2006, most vehicles have been equipped with something called an event data recorder (EDR) or a crash data recorder (CDR), otherwise known as a “blackbox”. These devices are programmed to record certain events just prior to and during a crash event. In order to access the recorded data, special equipment must be used. It is understood that the readers that are used are commercially available but, only from a limited source and are very expensive. It should also be noted that manufacturer’s dealers do not have these instruments (or at least are not publicly advertised). Vehicle manufacturers want to be able  to control the data in case it reveals a defect within their vehicle. As a result, if an EDR or CDR is to be read, it has to be removed from the vehicle and sent to the manufacturer unless an individual party with access to a reader can be located. If the problem of sudden acceleration is to be properly addressed, manufacturers have to come clean. If there is a problem with a vehicle, the manufacturer should take over the problem, fix it and stop trying to hide it in order to keep from being sued. The problem has been around long enough that all American manufacturers are aware of it. So much so that a little research will produce articles about GM, Ford and Chrysler making their own deals to have data recorders made and  programmed  for their vehicles. There are those that feel that the problem is the result of driver error. That is, driver’s inadvertenly step on the accelerator instead of  the brake pedal or step on both pedals at the same time. If this is what is happening, then how is that driver’s are confusing the pedals? Have manufacturer’s compacted the floor space so much that pedal location is confusing drivers? If so, isn’t this a manufacturing defect that should be addressed by the manufacturers?

More Recalls?

Whatever happened to the days when recalls were something you never heard about? remember when cars and appliances were built to last and not hurt anyone or anything? Remember when a manufacturer was disgraced if they built a bad product? Those days are long gone and have been for a long time. Those of us that grew up in the 50s and 60s can remember those times. But, those born in the late 60s and afterward do not know a time when american products and quality have NOT been in question. Recalls are part of life. Just take a look at NHTSA’s website or the website of the Consumer Products Safety Commission. Both are filled with problems that plague products, manufacturers, and  consumers. So what’s the answer? The answer is that we have known what the answer is for a long time. A lot of lessons were learned about quality during the 1970s. We know how to build good products. But, building good products doesn’t put people to work. Selling products puts people to work and keeps them working. Building good products keeps them in use for long periods of time. So, if something lasts, sales will be lower than if the product lifetime is shorter. Shorter lifetimes equates to a demand for more products. More products means faster production rates. Faster production means poor quality. Poor quality means more recalls. A vicious cycle?

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