Returning Lemons

A look at how defective products are recalled

Ever wonder how a product comes to be recalled? Nicolette Humphries, spokesperson at the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), says that when a product is found to be defective, it’s the companies themselves that inform the government of necessary recalls. In some cases, CPSC will follow up directly on consumer complaints. “If we find there’s a problem with a product, we will investigate and recall it,” says Humphries.

When a product is recalled, one of three things can happen: consumers return the product for a corrected version, a full refund is offered or the company offers to fix the item.

Listings of product recalls and how they’re being handled can be found weekly in local newspapers or monthly in Consumer Reports. Broadcast news media usually cover major recalls–from baby cribs to car models–that entail safety risks. If you’ve registered the item, the company will also probably mail you a notice.

A 24-hour CPSC hotline (800638-2772), Web site (www.cpsc.gov) and fax-on-demand service (301504-0051) give you direct access to recall information. Through these services, consumers can report an unsafe product and product-related injury; find out whether a product has been recalled; learn how to return a recalled product or arrange for its repair; get information on consumer purchases; and find out how to use a consumer product safely. Speak directly to a hotline operator Monday-Friday, 8:30 a.m.-5:00 p.m. Complaints can also be filed online at info@cpsc.gov.

Humphries says there are usually no deadlines on settling product recalls, but consumers should make sure to keep receipts and register major products by mail. For a list of CPSC publications, send a postcard to CPSC, Publications Request, Washington, DC 20207.

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