NHTSA: Graco Will Pay $10 Million in Fines for Delayed Car Seat Recall

NHTSA: Graco Will Pay $10 Million in Fines for Delayed Car Seat Recall
March 20, 2015

Graco's delay in recalling about 6 million car seats is costing the company $10 million in fines.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) fined the company following an investigation that found Graco knew about a potentially dangerous defect with its buckles and failed to announce a recall as required by law.

The company will pay $3 million to the federal government and is required to spend $7 million to improve child safety, which may include a campaign to get more people to register their car seats and changing their customer complaint procedures. The company has five years to implement the changes, which will be audited by a third party. If they fail to do so, they will owe the balance in cash.

Under federal law, once a manufacturer knows or should reasonably know that a car seat contains a safety related defective, the company has five days to notify the NHTSA.

Hundreds of consumers complained about the buckles, which would become stuck making it difficult to remove a child from the seat. The NHTSA determined that the buckles posed a significant safety risk because in an emergency situation, if the buckle became stuck, it could be difficult or impossible to pull the child from the car.

Feds Investigate

The NHTSA Office of Defects Investigation (ODI) began investigating the buckles in 2012 after nearly 200 complaints were reported to the federal agency. The company, however, has been fielding complaints from customers from as early as 2009. Graco blamed user error and dirty buckles for the problems and began providing cleaning and usage instructions. It also began modifying the design.

Graco during the investigation continued to claim that parents were using the buckles incorrectly and that they were becoming contaminated with food, formula, dirt and dried liquids.

It wasn't until February 2014 when Graco recalled about 3.7 million convertible and booster seats, expanding the recall in March to a total of 4.1 million. Despite using the same buckles, Graco resisted calls to recall rear facing infant (RFI) seats because there were less complaints and didn't get as dirty.

Graco also claimed that in the event of an emergency, the entire seat could be removed from the base and would not require the child to be unbuckled.

In its report, ODI disagreed stating that an emergency situation may make it impossible to remove the entire seat. Bystanders trying to assist in a rescue may be unfamiliar with how to remove the seat and will first attempt to unbuckle the child.

The company finally issued a recall for about 1.9 million rear facing infant seats in June 2014.

How to be Aware of Recalls

The easiest way to find out if your car seat becomes involved in a recall is to register it with the company. If you bought your car seat used or you borrowed it from a friend or family member, make sure the registration reflects the new ownership information.

Before you purchase or borrow a used car seat, find out if it has been recalled by clicking here. Remember that car seats have a six-year service life and an expiration date so you should pass on any car seat that is older than six years old or otherwise expired. You should also never purchase or borrow a car seat that has been in an accident so you should only purchase or borrow a car seat from someone you trust.

Consumer Reports provides a great write-up on which baby products are great used and which should be purchased new.

When a car seat has been recalled, it does so with the knowledge of the NHTSA. You can, and should, sign up for recall alerts here, but in our experience, the manufacturer will update the information more quickly so make sure you cover all of your bases.