Consumer Reports: What Are Uber, Lyft Are Doing About Recalls?

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky

As ride-hailing services utilize the personal vehicles of contractors, rather than a commercial fleet of their own, repairs and recalls have to be handled by individual drivers. While it shouldn’t be a revelation that some recalls fall through the cracks, Consumer Reports is concerned that the ratio of unaddressed safety issues are unbecoming of companies pushing multibillion-dollar IPOs.

“Uber and Lyft are letting down their customers and jeopardizing their trust,” suggested William Wallace, products policy manager for Consumer Reports. “Uber’s website says people can ‘ride with confidence,’ while Lyft promises ‘peace of mind,’ yet both companies fail to ensure that rideshare cars are free from safety defects that could put passengers at risk.”

The consumer advocacy group conducted a study of 93,958 vehicles with safety records registered to operate with Lyft and/or Uber in the NYC and Seattle areas, uncovering that about 1 in 6 automobiles had unresolved defects. While fairly close to the national average for all vehicles, CR suggests it’s insufficient for a commercial operation and criticized the ride-haling firms for not doing enough.

Uber and Lyft permit vehicles on their platforms so long as they are legally registered within the state and no more than 15 years old, depending on where they operate. Local laws can force additional safety stipulations, though Consumer Reports believes that the 1 in 6 average could be representative of other regions, even if it doesn’t accurately reflect the national market.

From Consumer Reports:

We found vehicles with glaring issues that pose serious risks, such as deadly Takata airbags that could hurt or kill the driver or front-seat passengers. There were unfixed defects involving the potential for vehicles to catch fire or for engines to lose power entirely. For example, one [New York-based] 2011 Sonata’s open recall notices says, “Engine failure would result in a vehicle stall, increasing the risk of a crash.”

It’s unclear whether any ride-hail customer or driver has been injured because of an issue related to an open safety recall, and the rate of open recalls we found for registered ride-hail vehicles in our investigation is about the same rate estimated for all vehicles on the road. But as Uber and Lyft aim to transform daily transportation for consumers, they’ve taken only minor steps to ensure their drivers get recalls addressed, CR’s review found. And that could have unintended consequences for the riding public.

Representatives for the ride-hailing companies outlined a number initiatives already in place to encourage drivers to address recalls. Uber said it participates in the NHTSA’s biannual campaign to raise awareness about recalls and has the ability to notify drivers of issues as they crop up. “As part of our commitment, we’re proactively blocking vehicles with open recalls that include a ‘Do Not Drive’ notice from the manufacturer or NHTSA from the app until they have taken action on their vehicle,” an Uber spokesperson explained.

Lyft said it’s actively working with lawmakers and regulators to create rules and regulations around vehicle safety, but noted drivers working with the company should be in the habit of taking care of recalls for their own sake. “Lyft drivers use their personal vehicles to drive on the platform—the same car they use in their daily lives, driving their kids to school or friends around town,” the company said in a statement. “Drivers have a strong personal incentive to make sure their car is in a safe operating condition.”

Not good enough for Consumer Reports, however. The group and its supporters recommend stronger safety recall laws.

“Uber and Lyft have the ability to have zero recalled cars on their platforms at the push of a button,” said Jason Levine, executive director of the Center for Auto Safety. “They both claim to be technology companies yet refuse to use that technology to take this obvious step to decrease the danger from unrepaired recalls on their drivers and customers.”

While true, both companies are hoping to manifest profit someday and kicking drivers off their platforms because of a failure to take care of recalls could hurt their bottom line. Making the service responsible for safety, rather than individual drivers, opens up a pandora’s box of liability. It isn’t something any ride-hailing firm wants to contend with if it doesn’t have to.

[Image: Jonathan Weiss/Shutterstock]

Matt Posky
Matt Posky

A staunch consumer advocate tracking industry trends and regulation. Before joining TTAC, Matt spent a decade working for marketing and research firms based in NYC. Clients included several of the world’s largest automakers, global tire brands, and aftermarket part suppliers. Dissatisfied with the corporate world and resentful of having to wear suits everyday, he pivoted to writing about cars. Since then, that man has become an ardent supporter of the right-to-repair movement, been interviewed on the auto industry by national radio broadcasts, driven more rental cars than anyone ever should, participated in amateur rallying events, and received the requisite minimum training as sanctioned by the SCCA. Handy with a wrench, Matt grew up surrounded by Detroit auto workers and managed to get a pizza delivery job before he was legally eligible. He later found himself driving box trucks through Manhattan, guaranteeing future sympathy for actual truckers. He continues to conduct research pertaining to the automotive sector as an independent contractor and has since moved back to his native Michigan, closer to where the cars are born. A contrarian, Matt claims to prefer understeer — stating that front and all-wheel drive vehicles cater best to his driving style.

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3 of 14 comments
  • Indi500fan Indi500fan on May 21, 2019

    What is the risk factor on uncompleted recall items vs. that of third world drivers working 16 hours a day to make payments?

  • Sigivald Sigivald on May 22, 2019

    Consumer Reports has been dead to me for a long time. They're clickbait anymore.

    • Ravenuer Ravenuer on May 24, 2019

      So you're saying that all Lyft and Uber vehicles are all up to date on their recalls? How'd you come up with that anyway?

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