Recreational Risk: Polaris RZR owners waiting months for recall fixes
Apr 24, 2023, 10:40 PM | Updated: 10:58 pm
NIBLEY, Utah — For Jed Peterson, riding his Polaris RZR on the weekends was a regular part of life. But his weekly recreation hit the brakes last September when Polaris issued a “stop ride/stop sale” order of Peterson’s RZR.
He was one of more than 30,000 affected by the alert, which advised that a “risk of primary clutch failure” could cause “potential injury.”
In short, Peterson could not ride the machine until there was a fix.
The RZR sat unused in his garage for months as he waited for the company to announce a recall and a fix.
“I have a $500 a month payment on that,” Peterson said, “with a $50 per month insurance payment. I can’t drive it and I can’t sell it. I’m losing money on it just sitting here. I’m losing money because I’m paying for the dang thing. It’s just been kind of a bad situation and it’s not getting any better.”
Industry leader in recalls
For years, Polaris has boasted of being a leader in the off-highway vehicle or OHV industry.
The company’s 2022 annual report shows $6.4 billion in off-road vehicle sales, and detailed they “continued to be the North America market share leader of off-road vehicles” that year.
The numbers also show Polaris leads the number of recalls on their OHVs. According to the Consumer Federation of America, which tracks OHV recalls, Polaris issued 59 recalls in the past 13 years.
That’s three and a half times more than Kawasaki, the company with the second-most recalls. Kawasaki had 16 during that same time period.
Rachel Weintraub spent two decades with the Consumer Federation of America, where she worked on product safety issues, including OHV safety. Now, she leads the Coalition for Sensible Safeguards.
“By far, Polaris recalls outnumber any other manufacturer,” Weintraub said, “and then the substantive reason for those recalls is… fire hazards.”
KSL Investigators previously reported Polaris had 13 recalls on RZR vehicles involving fire hazards over the past decade.
But upon analyzing the data from CFA, KSL Investigators found 29 of the 59 reported Polaris recalls, which included all their OHV products, were fire related.
While the cause of the recall varied, the same parts continued to pop up.
Fuel leaks occurred in seven recalls. Oil leaks prompted four recalls. A faulty heat shield led to three recalls. Clutch failure was the part listed in two recalls in two years, with 30,000 owners affected, 206 documented clutch failures, six fires, and two injuries. Leaking fuel pumps potentially causing a fire hazard were listed in three recalls.
Seth Warren was affected by one of those recalls, issued in December 2022, not long after he purchased his RZR Turbo R4 in August.
It had been sitting in his garage for the last five months.
“It’s just a paperweight,” Warren lamented. “It does me no good at this point. I mean, I’m scared if I do start it in the garage, just to keep it running and all that, it’s going to burn up my entire house.”
Weintraub said from a consumer safety perspective, there are two ways to look at the high number of recalls Polaris has issued.
“On the one hand, you know, good, they’re taking action,” she explained. “But I think the next question is, OK, if you’re looking at these recalls and looking at the cause, is the recall itself enough of a remedy to protect consumers?”
KSL Investigators took this data to Polaris. Their spokesperson, Jess Rogers, declined to talk with us on camera or by phone, but did correspond via email.
Rogers wrote that because they are the “market share leader in off-road vehicles,” and because of their “monitoring capabilities and thorough process to identify and correct issues, our recalls may at times be broader than others.’”
Weeks and months between recall and fix
Both Peterson and Warren waited months for an announced repair on their machines.
When Polaris discovers a safety concern, they issue a stop-ride, stop-sale to the affected owners. This means the machine should not be operated until they find a resolution. At that point, they reach out to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, who manages product recalls.
When the company comes up with a fix, it must be approved by the CPSC, who will then issue the official recall.
The time between the notice and the recall is often weeks, if not months.
KSL Investigators searched the last ten Polaris recalls affecting their side-by-sides, calculating the wait time between the stop-ride notice and the official recall. We found the shortest time was 24 days. The longest was 130 days and counting. On average, customers wait 70 days, more than two months, for an announced fix.
While that’s frustrating customers, it is also a strain for Polaris dealers and service centers.
We reached out to multiple service centers in Utah and heard frustration at how slowly parts were coming in. Specifically, we asked about the recalls affecting Peterson and Warren’s vehicles. Every shop was the same: a list of dozens of people waiting and parts coming in very slowly. In some cases, dealers were allocated only a few parts per week, meaning some waiting lists were months long to receive the fix.
Through Rogers, Polaris told us, “As a part of this process, it can include our suppliers needing time to ramp up production of the repair parts. Once we receive repair parts from our suppliers, we work quickly to ship the repair kids to our dealers.”
Warren’s recall repair was completed three and a half months after the recall was announced.
Peterson waited longer — seven months before his clutch was repaired.
“I wouldn’t have expected this many recalls,” Peterson said. “Their processing needs to change, because there’s a lot of problems that they’re having with their machines.”
Aside from product recalls, Weintraub said there are other actions in motion to further protect OHV owners and riders.
“There are always inherently risky products,” she explained. “But the job of those who are selling those products is to make sure that the risks are minimized as much as possible and that the product work as intended.
That’s where production and engineering standards come in.
In May 2021, CPSC announced they were “considering developing a rule to address the injury associated with fire and debris-penetration hazards associated with OHVs.”
It’s something Weintraub supports.
“We believe that a mandatory standard, that a rule, is necessary,” Weintraub said. “A voluntary approach with OHVs has been going on for a very long time, and we’re seeing hazards emerge and continue and not be adequately addressed.”
She’s not alone; other safety advocates are commenting in support of the rule. The OHV industry, including Polaris, has voiced opposition, calling the creation of mandatory rules “premature,” and declaring they had been working “cooperatively together” with CPSC “to develop standards.”
So far, that rule hasn’t appeared. Instead, the CPSC decided to separate the fire hazard and debris penetration issues.
For now, CPSC is waiting to see if Specialty Vehicle Institute of America (SVIA), a nonprofit trade association, will create a voluntary safety standard relating to fire hazards that CPSC will deem acceptable in addressing the risks.
In the meantime, Polaris told KSL Investigators “if (recall) repairs take extended time, we’ll also consider offers of goodwill, such as warranty extensions — reflecting our appreciation for our customers and our commitment to safety, quality, and performance.”
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