Recalls among Uber & Lyft cars pose safety risk on roadways

Millions of unsafe cars are rolling on California highways with unfixed recalls, serious issues or defective parts, according to the latest manufacturer data supplied to Carfax. Of that, a significant percentage of vehicles are registered with rideshare companies like Uber or Lyft, or are a registered city taxi cab.

2 Investigates, with the help of Carfax, randomly tested 70 Uber and Lyft vehicles finding at least one in six had some open safety recall from faulty exploding airbags, to potential fuel leaks leading to fires or a risk of computer issues causing safety features to disable entirely. When taxis were tested, more than 1,000, about 50 percent of the registered cabs working at SFO,  were found with some documented defect. 

“One of the big reasons for recalls not getting fixed is people’s cavalier attitude toward these recalls, thinking it’s no big deal or it’s not going to happen to them,” said Chris Basso with Carfax.

Using the Carfax app, which is available for free, a license plate can be entered instantly informing the driver or passenger about the car's maintenance records, safety information and recalls. License plates are associated with a car's specific VIN number, which is used to track vehicle information, including repairs. That information is gathered by manufacturers and updated daily to Carfax. 

The latest car manufacturers’ information shows 7.7 million vehicles have an unfixed safety recall and 1.5 million are on Bay Area streets.

“The safety of our roadways is at risk the longer these vehicles with unfixed recalls are left unfixed,” Basso said.

On a recent weekday, 2 Investigates began checking license plates for a few minutes and found a Toyota Sienna minivan with a faulty shift lever, meaning the driver thinks the van is in park but it could roll away. 

“That is at the very least an increased risk of a crash,” Basso explained. “And at the most you’re talking potential death.”

In several other cases during the experiment, there were open recalls found for defects with Takata airbags, where in a crash, the airbag could explode and send pieces of metal in the faces of drivers or passengers. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration officials have often called it “the biggest recall in American history.”

Lyft responded to KTVU's questions and the results of the experiment in a statement that read in part: “Lyft requires a rigorous a safety inspection of all drivers' vehicles before they are permitted to operate on our platform. Drivers in California must have their vehicles inspected by a licensed mechanic to ensure that their vehicles meet industry safety standards and all applicable state department of motor vehicle requirements.”

Uber also declined to do an on-camera interview but said in a statement: “We regularly remind drivers to check for open recalls and to take the necessary steps to get them fixed. Road safety is the responsibility of everyone who uses the roadways. ” 

Uber does have a policy that includes a 19-point inspection that every Uber car must pass before a driver is allowed to pick up passengers. However, the inspection sheet never asks or says anything about safety recalls or recall repairs.

For comparison, 2 Investigates requested records from the San Francisco International Airport for every license plate and VIN number for registered taxis. Using that information, the cabs’ information was run through the same Carfax system to look for recalls. The findings were more alarming: Out of more than 2,000 registered taxis, nearly half had a potentially dangerous defect. Top recalls among taxis include airbag issues, power steering problems, defects with door latches, and safety concerns with seatbelts.

“It was a little surprising but not completely unexpected,” Yellow Cab owner Chris Sweis said. “We have the responsibility not just to our drivers but to our passengers as well. We own the vehicles, we’re responsible for the vehicles, we’re liable if anything happens to anyone in the vehicles.”

Sweis owns and oversees one of the biggest taxi cab companies in San Francisco with a fleet of more than 600 cabs. He acknowledged that many taxis have had manufacturer-issued recalls. But instead of taking each of the problem cabs to the dealer, his team of 30 mechanics take it upon themselves to make the necessary repairs. These fixes, he acknowledged, are not always reported to or signed off by the manufacturer, which is why taxis appear to have a high number of unfixed recalls.

By law, taxi cabs have to undergo more scrutiny thanUber and Lyft. San Francisco city inspectors must annually inspect 160 different inspection points before giving the taxi an approval sticker seen on the outside of the cabs.

Right now, there are no federal laws forcing drivers to get safety recalls fixed in a certain amount of time. So, if a rideshare or taxi driver decides not to fix a faulty safety belt or airbag, for example, the driver is not breaking any laws. 

Passengers, however, can look up the information on their own. Anyone can look up information on a car with a license plate. Download the myCARFAX app or visit the National Highway Safety Administration website and entering your car’s VIN number.