By on May 21, 2019

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]

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14 Comments on “Consumer Reports: What Are Uber, Lyft Are Doing About Recalls?...”

  • avatar

    I missed the part where they looked at vehicles in the fleets of the taxicab medallion cartel. I would sooner buy another boat than ‘invest’ in ride sharing application companies, but this story does reveal that Consumer Reports doesn’t worry about optics anymore.

  • avatar
    R Henry

    Pretty sure the ride share “platforms” need to avoid the appearance of managing drivers or vehicles. Remember, their legal status as software platforms allow them to get away will all sorts of labor chicanery…and avoidance of countless fleet management responsibilities. As far as they are concerned, they only manage servers and programmers, not drivers, not vehicles.

    • 0 avatar

      Yeah, those drivers are contractors, providing their own equipment.

      Uber/Lyft have no possible *way* to actually make this happen.

      They can require it (“pinky swear you do all recalls ASAP!”), but they can’t *enforce* it in any plausible way.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    This problem isn’t exclusive to Uber and Lyft.

    There should be laws passed which require used (and new) car dealers to only sell vehicles with all recall work completed.

    When my son bought his 2011 Sonata in 2013 from the Hyundai dealer who had sold and serviced it for the original owner, the car had 4 outstanding recalls they never bothered to address.

    • 0 avatar
      Pete Zaitcev

      Ho about… F**K NO? Most of the recalls are completely bogus. On my previous car I had a bunch of them outstanding. Discarded their stupid postcards for years. The best recall among them was one where they take away my good skid plate and install a worthless “skid bar”, because “material” could get between the plate and exhaust and start a fire. These sh*tty recalls need to die before such kind of legislation is to be contemplated.

      • 0 avatar

        Here’s a view of someone working in the industry:

        Recalls are extremely expensive, bad optics, and a pain in the ass. We don’t do them for fun, and certainly don’t do them arbitrarily. If a recall manages to make it through all the layers of OEM and/or Federal bureaucracy and actually gets issued, it’s generally not because of some “sh*tty” way of thinking, it’s generally because there’s a bodycount or a pile of near-misses. (label recalls excluded, those are admittedly trite)

        Get your car fixed. It’s free, and your family will surely appreciate having you around longer.

        • 0 avatar

          The only post that doesn’t go off into rant land on a tangent. Good one.

          I’ve had four recalls on my 2008 since new. I presume that the car company didn’t want to spend the money fixing things for free, so that when they were forced into a recall, it meant they were serious. So I got them done tout-de-suite.

          People tearing up recall notices must be lunatics.

    • 0 avatar

      Don’t dealers make money on completing recall work?

    • 0 avatar

      So what should be done about recalls for which there is no fix, or that you can’t get parts for? Should owners be stuck indefinitely with unfixable vehicles, or dealers be stuck with them? Any vehicle with an outstanding recall would be worth much less at trade in as dealers try to cover themselves against getting stuck with a vehicle they legally can’t resell. Imagine that chaos.

  • avatar

    Why then NYC subway sucks so much? And taxicab service as well.

  • avatar

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

  • avatar

    Consumer Reports has been dead to me for a long time.

    They’re clickbait anymore.

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