Most people might be surprised at how little power the federal government has in issuing product recalls over the objections of manufacturers.

Usually, the recalls it does issue must use wording drafted during negotiations with the company. Even so, companies are often free to forgo the process entirely, issuing lower-profile notices on their own websites instead.

Off-highway vehicle maker issuing its own notices

In recent years, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) issued recall reports involving hundreds of thousands of Polaris vehicles due to product defects.

Products by Polaris, a top manufacturer of off-highway vehicles (OHV), were the subject of 40 recalls in 2010 to 2020, more than 10 times the average for the other 19 brands with recalls in those years, according to an analysis by the Consumer Federation of America (CFA).

In its count, the CFA included five “stop sale/stop ride” notices Polaris posted to the company’s website in 2019. These were not official government recalls and the CPSC did not issue a recall report or post the action on its website. These stop sale/stop ride notices ordinarily get less attention than CPSC recalls.

Recall system weaker than most Americans probably know

More than 30 years ago, federal policies yielded to manufacturers’ demands that their reputations should not be at the mercy of government regulators alone.

As a result, federal law requires the CPSC to secure the permission of a manufacturer before it can announce a recall using the company’s name or even before releasing any information that might reveal the identity of the company. In most cases, the rule applies even when defects are linked to injuries and deaths.

Even when the CPSC issues an alert or recall, manufacturers typically have the power to negotiate the specific language of the announcement and to limit the information provided.

In contrast, manufacturers can post stop sale/stop ride notices on the company website whenever they want to. The notices do not have to reflect any negotiations with regulators and usually draw less public attention.

Slow cooperation followed by website notices

Recent CPSC recalls involved Polaris products linked to at least four deaths and dozens of burn injuries, according to a recent article by FairWarning. The company paid a $27.25 million fine for not telling the CPSC about fire hazards in a timely way.

Four of the five stop sale/stop ride notices the company posted to its website in 2019 involved fire hazards, including one for a UTV (utility task vehicle) with incorrectly routed fuel lines.