Safety Recalls in the Sharing Economy: Should You Be Worried?


Is your Uber driver shuttling you around in a defective car? Would Uber know or do anything about it? What about homes on Airbnb? In the “Sharing Economy,” these concerns are increasingly real.

safety recalls in the sharing economy
6 min read

If you have a new car, or a new baby (with the accompanying new-baby gear), or a new fancy appliance, you might have signed up online or mailed back a form asking to be notified in the event of a product recall – or maybe not, they’re easy to miss. But either way, at least you’re the one in charge.

But if you’re making use of the ever-prevalent sharing economy, you’re trusting the conscientiousness of complete strangers. Has your Uber driver addressed the Takata airbag recall? Has the Airbnb host sent away for the Cuisinart food processor replacement piece? The rabbit hole can go deep, but the question is…

How worried do you actually need to be about safety recalls in the sharing economy?

First, what is a recall?

Cars and products are recalled because they’ve injured someone or caused property damage in some way, so they need to be taken seriously. The number of people affected compared with the number of vehicles or products recalled is usually small. Still, a recall means potential injury, damage, or even death, so not addressing an issue can mean playing with fire.

A few safety recall examples:

  • The Takata airbag recall is one of the biggest, affecting millions of vehicles of many makes and models, and the faulty airbags have caused a total of 11 deaths and 184 injuries in the U.S.
  • Last June, actor Anton Yelchin died when his Jeep Grand Cherokee rolled into him. The Jeep had been recalled by Fiat Chrysler because of a faulty shifter and had, at the time of Yelchin’s death, caused 41 injuries, 212 crashes and 308 reports of property damage.
  • Other reasons vehicles are recalled often have to do with spare tires that can come undone, faulty software, and, as was the case with Volkswagen’s diesel vehicles, untold environmental damage.

So how do we prevent this when we’re not using our own products?

Sharing economy recalls can be addressed on two fronts: by regulations in the city or town in which the sharing company (rideshare or homeshare) operates, or by the sharing company itself.

airbnb sharing economy

So, how seriously do local governments and companies in the sharing economy take recalls?

A detailed look…

Major Sharing Economy Companies: Where They Stand on Recalls

Uber:

Officially, drivers are required to follow strict guidelines, according to a company spokesperson, and Uber suggests they stay up to date with recalls. But what’s the real deal? Uber neither tracks nor follows up with drivers whose vehicles have been recalled, and passengers have no way of knowing if vehicles they are about to ride in have been recalled, or if the owners are addressing potential issues.

Lyft:

Lyft does not require its drivers to prove their vehicles are up to date with recalls, nor does Lyft track which vehicles in their fleet need work done due to recalls.

Airbnb:

Airbnb doesn’t have an official policy for product recalls and doesn’t address the need for hosts to attend to recalls in any of their literature.

HomeAway:

HomeAway doesn’t have an official policy for product recalls, either.

Generally, rideshare companies make some effort to encourage drivers to address recall issues, but because they don’t track repairs, any fixes are left completely up to the drivers. Top homeshare companies have no official policies about recalled products, nor do they encourage hosts to address recalls.

If 1 in 3 Ubers or taxis had outstanding recalls, would you ride in them?

What happens if recalled vehicles and products are not repaired?

One investigation found that up to 1 in 3 rideshare and taxi vehicles have an outstanding recall that hasn’t been addressed.

Industry experts say not requiring drivers or homeowners to address recalls could leave companies like Uber and Airbnb open to lawsuits.

Unaddressed recalls could also affect insurance: manufacturers are on the hook for recall-related crashes, so even if you’ve put off addressing a recall and the issue causes injury or damage, your insurance most likely won’t be affected (though your conscience may). But, if the recall issue that you fail to have addressed causes a long-term safety impact, your insurance rates may go up.

bikesharing sharing economy

Will your local government protect you?

Because traditional taxi and car companies are regulated by the cities and towns in which they operate, they are subject to the laws of their home base –laws which may or may not include rules about addressing vehicle recalls. For instance, San Francisco inspects taxis every year (and every 6 months for vehicles with more than 200,000 miles on the odometer) and the chief spokesman for the city’s Municipal Transportation Agency told 10 News that vehicle recalls would be covered in those checks. However, cities like Tampa, Seattle, and New York City do not require taxis be up to date with recalls, meaning taxi companies are on their own when it comes to addressing recalls

How can consumers take control?

If you can’t count on the rideshare driver, homeshare renter, or overarching company itself to address potentially hazardous recalls yet you’d still like to participate in the sharing economy, you’ll have to take matters into your own hands (thumbs):

  • You can look up any vehicle on motorsafety.org to see if it has an outstanding recall notice (but you need the VIN, making looking up rideshare vehicles tricky) or on recalls.gov.
  • Learn the laws about recall oversight in your hometown and contact local representatives if you think there isn’t enough being done.
  • Before renting through Airbnb or HomeAway, potential guests can consult with owners about any issues they please, including asking if any items on the property have outstanding product recalls.

Our final take: a reasonable person participating in the sharing economy should be aware of potential issues with recalled, but not yet repaired, vehicles and products and proceed with caution.

And, we must all be responsible vehicle owners: unaddressed vehicle recalls can affect everyone on the road, so be responsible and fix yours.