Letter to Attorney General of California Bill Lockyer

The Center for Auto Safety is the nation’s premier independent, member driven, non-profit consumer advocacy organization dedicated to improving vehicle safety, quality, and fuel economy on behalf of all drivers, passengers, and pedestrians.


May 15, 2002

Honorable Bill Lockyer
Attorney General of California
1515 K Street
Sacramento, CA 95814

Dear Attorney General Lockyer:

California consumers are the victims of geographic recall discrimination under a policy first adopted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in 1985 and which has mushroomed in the 1990’s. After 25 years of requiring every safety recall to cover every state, NHTSA adopted a policy of permitting auto makers to limit recalls to states, and even parts of states. Since 1994, there have been 37 geographic recalls affecting over 20 million vehicles. In only one of those recalls was the entire state of California covered.

Two fuel tank recalls on Ford minivans show the seriousness of this exclusionary policy. Fuel tanks on 1988-90 Ford Aerostars and 1995 Ford Windstars can develop cracks due to high ambient temperatures. Then fuel and vapors leak out waiting only for an ignition source to erupt into flames. NHTSA approved geographic recalls by Ford that included only 10 southern California counties (Los Angeles, Orange, San Bernardino, San Diego, Riverside, Ventura, Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, Imperial, and Kern). Other hot counties including Inyo which has the hottest spot in the country, Death Valley, were excluded. The average yearly temperature high in Death Valley is 89.4 compared to 69.3 for downtown Santa Barbara. Yet NHTSA allowed Ford to call Santa Barbara hot and Death Valley not. Some thing is clearly wrong when NHTSA says, "It’s not hot in Death Valley."

The National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 1966 treats all vehicles equally regardless of where they are sold or registered. If there is a safety defect, the Act requires the vehicle to be recalled whether it is in Alaska, Florida, or anywhere in between. Given the mobility of society, cars travel from one area to another. Regional recalls make little sense if safety is a priority. Yet after 25 years of every state recalls, NHTSA in the mid-1980s gave in to automakers threats not to do any recall if they had to do the whole country. Geographic recalls reduce auto company recall costs at the expense of public safety.

Next to consumers, California with 12% of the nation’s vehicles is the biggest victim of geographic recalls because auto makers can cut recall costs12% by excluding California. only one of the 37 geographic recalls includes all of California. As CAS demonstrated by finding 30 failure reports outside the geographic recall area including two accidents in Georgia and California in Ford’s first subframe bolt corrosion recall on Ford Taurus, Mercury Sable and Lincoln Continental (93V-106), corrosion failures occur in California.

Enclosed is a report which we sent to NHTSA Administrator Jeffrey Runge detailing the consumer abuses of geographic recalls. Since California is the biggest victim of geographic recalls, we request that use whatever authority you have to investigate and curtail this abusive consumer practice.



Clarence M. Ditlow
Executive Director