How many of us have driven on “Empty” a little too long? (“Surely I can make it.”) Or added an extra slice of pizza, never mind the calorie count? (As TV’s “The Nanny” once said, “If you stack them on top of each other, the body doesn’t know!”)
Maybe it’s just the way we’re all wired, but consequences can sometimes be difficult to imagine — that is, until they happen to us.
As a personal injury attorney in Pikeville, KY, I deal with the aftermath of misguided invincibility every day. Most people don’t mean to cause car crashes, workplace accidents, medical mishaps, or any of the other injuries we handle, but they happen nonetheless. And too often, the impact of those injuries is catastrophic.
“Blind belief” is especially pervasive when it comes to consumer products. People inherently trust the things they buy. And in fairness, that’s a pretty reasonable expectation.
Unfortunately, though, dangerous products still make their way into the marketplace with surprising regularity. That isn’t the innocent consumer’s fault, and they aren’t responsible. But I do want them to be aware. That’s especially true where motor vehicles are concerned.
New vehicle defects pop up all the time. Some are very serious, some probably aren’t, and sometimes it can be hard to tell which is which. That’s why car owners should always take any suspected defect very seriously, ensuring total resolution before unexpected problems arise.
Maybe you own a brand-new car. Maybe it’s even a high-dollar, top-of-its-class make and model. You might assume that you’re probably pretty safe, then. Or maybe your vehicle is older and you figure that if problems were going to present themselves, they already would have.
I’m here to tell you that vehicle defects can — and do — occur at any time, with any brand, in any model, and at any price point. Sometimes the manufacturer catches them before anyone gets hurt. On other occasions, tragedy unfolds before anyone’s the wiser. Some defects might even arise from third-party parts, like airbags or tires. Whatever the case may be, paying diligent attention to vehicle defects can mean the difference between life and death.
To help illustrate the problem in real-world terms, let’s walk together through some of the biggest and most shocking car recalls in history. They just might pull the blinders back from our unfailing belief in trusty transportation.
Toyota and the Case of the Runaway RAV4s (2009 – 2010)
It’s one thing for you to put your own pedal to the metal. But what happens when the metal won’t let go?
Sadly, more than 60 Toyota drivers experienced just such a nightmare at the end of the last decade. A series of manufacturing errors caused gas pedals to go haywire. Floor mats lodged themselves under the pedal in some models, while the accelerator simply stuck in others. In both cases, the gas pedal just wouldn’t let up.
More than 9 million vehicles were affected across more than a dozen models — among them: the Avalon, Camry, Corolla, Matrix, Highlander, Prius, RAV4, Tundra, Tacoma, and multiple Lexus models. Tragically, 30 of the cases caused at least one death each.
Naturally, Toyota scrambled to make changes. At a price tag of $5 billion, it became the costliest vehicle recall in history. But for far too many drivers, it was too little too late.
If you own a 2009 or 2010 Toyota or Lexus in one of the relevant models, please make sure that the problem has been fully corrected right away. Remember: Just because you haven’t experienced a problem yet doesn’t mean that you won’t in the future.
When Firestone Tires Couldn’t Take the Heat (2000)
Back in May of 2000, the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) began to notice a troubling trend involving Firestone tires on certain Ford vehicles. As it turns out, the tread was peeling off these tires while they operated at high speeds on highways and interstates. Too often, the tires disintegrated shortly thereafter, resulting in roadway catastrophe.
Firestone and Ford had noticed the same and launched an investigation. That’s when the problem erupted. Thousands of vehicles were rolling over or otherwise wrecking as a result of the defective tires. Experts concluded that heat was a significant factor — the majority of the accidents unfolded in the southern U.S.
Once a widely trusted brand, Firestone suffered devastating backlash from the public. Their product and logo were lampooned in popular culture, and efforts to shift the blame to Ford met only limited success. (Ford did accept some responsibility but also noted, accurately, that many other carmakers had been affected by the same tires.)
Firestone has managed to bounce back to some considerable extent in the years since, but a much more important lesson emerged from the fiasco: tire safety matters. Regardless of which brand you buy, please remember that rubber can’t last forever. Tires do degrade over time, and you should never risk your life with a worn-out, defective, or expired tire.
Fords in Flames: Back-to-Back Bad Luck (1996 – 1998)
Long before the Firestone fiasco, Ford had fire problems all their own. In the mid-90s, Lady Luck snubbed the automotive giant not once but twice — back to back.
First, the ignition switches in many of its models began to short out, causing smoke and occasional fire. In a few cases, the steering column even ignited spontaneously while the vehicles were still switched off. Nearly nine million vehicles were affected, with models ranging from 1988 to 1993. Amazingly, even though the recall didn’t roll out until 1996 — only after heavy pressure from the federal government, I might add — Ford managed to solve the problem before there was a single fatality. Thousands of cars were damaged, though, and dozens of people were injured (a few of them seriously).
Not long thereafter, Ford faced an even fierier flap when it learned that the cruise control feature in many of its most popular models was defective. Small electrical switches were leaking and causing smoke and fire in some vehicles. By 1998, it appeared that only a few hundred thousand individual cars were impacted. But the problems didn’t stop there.
Incredibly, later models continued to roll off the assembly line with similar cruise control problems. A series of investigations and recalls followed, with the number of tainted vehicles rapidly skyrocketing. By 2009, The Huffington Post reported that more than 16 million Fords had been affected by the same problem since 1995. Sometimes, even foresight doesn’t fix a flop.
When Seatbelts Attack: The Takata Trap of 1995
During the 1990s, just about every major carmaker turned to a Japanese company called Takata to provide their seatbelts. Well, you know what they say about a single basket for all your eggs.
Hundreds of consumers began to complain that their safety restraints were malfunctioning, effectively trapping them inside their own vehicles. As you can imagine, that could prove not only scary but also quite deadly in an emergency. Drivers were outraged.
Because Takata touched so many vehicles, the implications of a recall were mindboggling. To cool the furor, nine major automakers agreed to provide different seatbelt mechanisms as a replacement, free of charge. More than 8 million vehicles came in for repair, with models spanning nearly every brand and dating all the way back to 1986. It was quite a chunk of a change when all was said and done — one of the most memorable recalls of the last few decades.
Don’t Face the Insurance Companies Alone
Don’t let the foregoing fool you. These were all major stories, but most automotive recalls never make the evening news. New vehicle defects are discovered almost every day, and many innocent owners go unaware of the latest developments.
Here’s the good news: If it’s a serious defect, the manufacturer has a duty to notify you, make repairs (or replacements) available, and eat the entire cost themselves. If they fail to own up to the problem, a personal injury attorney can help you.
But too often, recall notices get lost in the mail. That leaves drivers and their families vulnerable to serious injury and the risk of death. A defective vehicle may behave normally for months or years and then suddenly go awry, and it only takes one accident to cause a tragedy.
So what can you do? Be proactive. Check for recall alerts on a regular basis. Visit your manufacturer’s website. Add a hazard-tracking site like www.autoblog.com/recalls to your bookmarks list. (Go there today and you’ll be shocked by how many major recalls are in effect right now!) And if you ever suspect that your vehicle isn’t behaving properly, take it to your dealership or a trusted mechanic and have it thoroughly inspected.
You deserve a fully functional, reliably safe ride. Always take vehicle defects and recalls seriously. Keep an eye out for your own car on the hazard lists. A quick Google search could save your life.
Johnson Law Firm is a Pikeville personal injury law firm that helps victims of personal injury and their families throughout Pike County, Eastern Kentucky, and across the entire Bluegrass State. For more information or to get help with a potential claim, call Johnson Law Firm at 606-433-0682 today.