We just got a recall notice in the mail about my wife's car, something about the brake pedal needing repair. You'd better believe we got the dang thing right down to the dealer to get it fixed.
Now, this wasn't the first notice we'd gotten about the car. It was the fourth. Four different factory defects on a two-year-old station wagon. That means four different trips to the dealer to have something fixed that wasn't our fault. It's a car, dammit, not the space shuttle. How complicated can it be to build it right the first time?
OK, sure, the factory picked up the repair cost. But we paid for it in other ways, with all the hassles re-arranging her rides to and from work, and all the work time I had to take off, too. There was no way I was going to send my wife down there to deal with those sharks. If they'd gotten a hold of her we'd have been stuck with all new brakes, a new transmission, and lord knows what else. (I love my wife, but she doesn't know jack about cars.)
Unfortunately, we're not the only family getting notices. Do you have any idea of how many millions (that's right, millions) of cars and trucks have been recalled for defects in the past few years? After getting our last notice I did some poking around on the Internet and found that more than 3.5 million trucks and SUVs were recalled in the last six months of 2001 alone. Man! That doesn't even include the cars. I got too tired of counting to add them in, too. That also doesn't include the 1.5 million Grand Cherokees that were just recalled for transmission shifter problems.
It's true that some of these recalls seem to be for silly little things, like dashboard lights that won't go on or trim that may fall off and "startle the operator, increasing the risk of a crash." Those are the actual words from a government Web site, by the way. Makes me wonder what sort of standards they use to start a recall. I get startled every time I accidentally tune into one of those hard-rock radio stations, or when my wife's cell phone rings in her purse. You don't see the government banning them, do you?
But there are other recalls that are a lot more serious. Like the Firestone tire mess last year, and this Jeep deal. According to what I read in the paper, some Grand Cherokees built between 1993 and 1998 can slip out of Park and into Reverse, even when the driver thinks he's fully in Park. At least five people have died and about 150 have been injured in accidents supposedly related to the tranny problem. Jeep says nothing is wrong with the Grand Cherokee, but it is going along with the government's request for the recall and will put new parts in the transmissions to keep them from slipping.
At first, this whole thing reminded me of the problems Audi had back in the '80s, when its cars experienced what was called "unintended acceleration." Remember that? People were driving through garage walls and running over their pets and blaming it on the Audis. Just about ruined the company. Back then I figured it was just stupid drivers not knowing which pedal to push. Figured the same thing was happening with these Grand Cherokee owners. Then I read that a government investigator was able to get a Jeep to slip from Park to Reverse not just once, but three times. That's not driver error, folks. That sounds like a real mechanical problem.
I don't mean to pick on Jeep, but when I did the recall count on the Internet, I couldn't help but notice that Jeeps were involved in five of the 15 truck and SUV recalls I saw. GM didn't do any better. It had six recalls. Ford only had two, but those two involved more than two million vehicles. So there's plenty of bad engineering, or poor construction, going on among all of the Big Three. And that's just wrong.