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Appliance Recalls: Understanding Their Importance

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About 50 percent of homes are likely to own a product that's been part of a recall and in the past five years, more than 15 million appliances have been recalled. Homeowners should always pay special attention and be aware of recalls on the goods in their home. My experience working in the appliance industry has taught me that when appliances and other products are recalled, homeowners need to take quick action and deal with it as soon as possible -- the stakes involved can include injuries to your home and family. I'm going to explain how recalls work and how you can stay safe when dealing with recalls.

Why are products recalled?

The appliances in our homes are recalled because one of two things can go wrong: the appliance may have a design defect that simply prevents it from working properly or, more seriously, it has a flaw that actually makes it dangerous to use. A design flaw like the latter can cause the appliance to catch fire, result in property damage or pose an injury or other hazards to owners. If either the CPSC or the manufacturer labels a product as being recalled, then it can no longer be sold and must stop being used immediately.

For example, in 2010, Maytag announced a recall on a series of their dishwashers due to a faulty heating element that could fail and potentially cause a fire hazard. Over 1.7 million Maytag built dishwashers, which included such brands as Maytag, Amana, Jenn-Air, Admiral, Magic Chef, Performa by Maytag and Crosley brand dishwashers were included in that recall.

Types of Recalls

There are two types of recalls -- voluntary and compulsory -- and they don't mean exactly what you might expect.

The majority of recalls fall under the voluntary category. This means the manufacturer has issued the recall willingly and is actively working with the government to communicate the recall to consumers. In the US, six different agencies are responsible for protecting consumers. One of the largest agencies is the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), which regulates more than 15,000 types of products found in our homes and schools including any problems related to faulty appliances and other consumer goods.

Compulsory recalls occur when the government orders a manufacturer to take a particular product off the shelf because of concerns it's a dangerous product. Fortunately, since 2001, there hasn't been a reported case of a compulsory recalls for home appliances.

Depending on how complex the nature of the recall is, the announcement time frame can be anywhere from a few weeks after the first initial report, up to one-year. The process starts with customers contacting the CPSC and reporting a potential hazard. Companies are also required to report any information that might indicate a hazard to the CPSC within 24 hours after receiving that information. The CPSC reviews the information that it's been provided and takes the appropriate action.

Improving Recall Awareness

You can employ a few different tactics so you're always aware of any potential recalls. When purchasing new products, like appliances, fill out the registration card that comes with it and mail it into the manufacturer. If you're concerned about your personal information then supply only basic contact information.

For items, you already own, visit the manufacturer's website and see if any information has been posted regarding a recall. In addition, there are a number of great consumer protection sites like ConsumerReports.com, which write about safety, recall news and post recalls. The downside of visiting these types of sites is remembering to check them regularly to see if there is any updated information and some manufacturers make it difficult to locate relevant information about a recalled appliance.

Another popular method is taking advantage of recall-tracking tools to help manage the products in your home. There are more generic services such as the CPSC which allow you to receive emails regarding new product recalls or niche services like PartSelect's Appliance Recall Alerts that actually do the monitoring for you.

The best piece of advice I can give homeowners about recalls is to remain calm. As soon as you become aware of a recall, tell everyone in the home to stop using the recalled appliance. It's recommended to disconnect the power and keep it unplugged until it's been repaired or replaced. Contact the manufacturer as soon as possible and they'll guide you through the process and answer any questions you might have. Above all, it's important to be attentive about recalls. They could save you time, money and help keep your home safe.