A joint statement between Polaris and the U.S. Consumer Products and Safety Commission (CPSC) was recently added to a series of company recalls related to potential fire issues in some of the company's vehicles, and the circumstances of it are worth talking about.
Which Products Are Affected?
The company's most recent statement relates to a line of "recreational off-highway vehicles" (ROVs), a more advanced form of ATV that resembles a small but scrappy bare-bones SUV with a roll cage.
The wording of the statement says it's about many production runs of RZR 900- and 1000-series ROVs, manufactured between 2013 and 2017. Many of those vehicles were already recalled in previous years due to similar issues, but Polaris kept sending out new annual iterations.
What's Wrong With Them?
The company's 2016 recall said:
"The recalled ROVs can catch fire while consumers are driving, posing fire and burn hazards to drivers and passengers."
It appears the 2017 models have continued this unsettling trend, combusting at random while their drivers are using them normally. Moreover, the allegedly-repaired 2016 ROVs continued to suffer reported fires after they were returned, including total-loss combustions. The new joint statement essentially adds the 2017 models of the RZR to the same recall already issued for the 2016 ROVs.
As for what's actually causing the fires, the company's statement blames the ROVs' return fuel lines, which apparently might be "improperly secured." As one might imagine, a loose fuel line involves a lot of leaking gas, which in turn greatly heightens the chances of a vehicle fire.
As of the 2016 recall Polaris was already aware of over 160 individual fire reports. Most of those solely involved property damage, though even that could be extensive. However, the company acknowledged that 19 reports involved injuries of first, second, and third-degree burns. Another incident involved a 15-year-old boy who died in a vehicle fire after his RZR rolled over.
Who Makes This Product?
Polaris Industries is a multi-billion dollar international enterprise. It has made all manner of sporting and commercial vehicles since its inception in the 1950's. If you've ever ridden a snowmobile, an ATV/ROV, a golf cart, or even an Indian or Victory brand motorcycle, you've probably seen their handiwork.
While their reputation remains mostly positive and the company wears many hats (including some defense contracts), it is worth noticing that Polaris has issued 15 recalls in just the last 12 months--most of them about their lines of ROVs.
How Widespread is the Problem?
The RZR ROVs are manufactured, imported (some factories are in Mexico), and sold by Polaris. The company's nationwide dealers sold the faulty vehicles from July 2012 through April 2016, though it actually looks like that latter cutoff must be extended into 2017.
Running off the original CPSC numbers from the 2016 recall, around 133,000 ROV units are subject to the fire malfunction. That's a pretty loose estimate now, though, because some of the 2016 models were probably returned and repaired just fine. However, other returns from that time were not successfully fixed, but still were sent back to consumers with the same tendency to catch fire.
Now the 2017 models must also be added to the count, but specific numbers haven't been released for those. The best we can do is assume that ≥ 133,000 powder kegs are still bumping along off-road in the U.S.
What Can Consumers Do About This?
The language of the 2016 CPSC recall is pretty clear that consumers with any of the listed VIN numbers should discontinue use of their ROVs and call Polaris at 1-800-POLARIS to arrange repairs. RZR owners can also check if their VINs are included in any recalls through Polaris' off-road product safety recalls website.
Of course, the wrinkle is that Polaris' former repair attempts don't seem to have worked for everyone. The joint statement they released with the CPSC doesn't offer any new alternatives, though, so RZR owners might want to ask a few questions about that when calling the hotline.
What This Means
It's more than a little troubling that Polaris apparently had no qualms about releasing the same fire-prone vehicles into circulation year after year. The company issued something like 15 recalls in the last 12 months, spanning several of its models and years. Many of those recalls related to possible fire outbreaks, causing me to wonder: Has Polaris taken any worthwhile action to remedy what is apparently a drastically-wrong manufacturing process?
Hundreds of thousands of Polaris ROVs are buzzing around the nation's backcountry on hunting trips or off-road joyrides, and these recalls suggest that it takes remarkably little to shake their fuel lines loose or overheat their internal components and set them on fire. Polaris gamely issues recalls to "fix" the damaged parts, but those repairs often don't do the job and the same units have to be sent in again and again. The old saw about the definition of insanity, doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results, might apply here.
Perhaps instead of cranking out flawed vehicles that conceivably could cook someone alive, then halfheartedly recalling those units to ineffectually poke a wrench at the alleged problem, Polaris should reevaluate and improve its standards. If no fault can be located on the factory line, it's probably time to trace the ROV's internal components to their sources--one by one if necessary--and determine where the fault lies. Ultimately, the company should only send out ROVs that easily pass through rigorous quality control, because this bumbling injuries-and-recalls strategy has to be damaging its 60+ years of consumer and investor good will.