Item: An air compressor sold under the labels Craftsman, XCEL, Porter Cable and Pro-Air II can overheat and catch fire.
Item: Two styles of RIDGID nailers, one for framing and one for roofing, have triggers that can suddenly shoot nails without warning.
Item: Toro Z-Master Commercial Series 2000 Series ZRT riding lawnmowers have a traction drive belt that can wear through the mowers fuel tank, causing it to leak gasoline.
Would you know if you have any of these potentially dangerous tools?
Maybe not, say experts in tool recalls.
Most consumers do not hear about products that are recalled until long after the recalls, says Jennifer Toney, chief executive officer of www.wemakeitsafer.com, a website that provides free information about tool recalls.
All the above tools were recalled by the federal Consumer Product Safety Commission, or CPSC, within the last six months – and all for hazards that could seriously injure a person or destroy property.
Few owners find out
Tool owners, especially if they have not returned registration or warranty cards, often wont find out about the recall from the tool maker, she says, and the overall average for return and remedial action for consumer products, including tools and hardware, averages only between 20 percent and 30 percent.
Thats for a number of reasons, she says.
Although federal authorities have a fast-track process for recalls, many tools are used sporadically, so it might be years before enough defects come to light for a recall to be issued.
An example: a 19.2-volt Drill Master cordless drill sold by Harbor Freight since April of 2008 was not recalled until Nov. 27, 2012. Federal authorities say the company distributed 100,000 of the rechargeable drills, model number 96526. Their power switch can overheat, causing burns and a fire hazard, and injuries to users have been reported.
Second, many tools are bought second-hand, so consumers may not receive registration information, Toney says, and although its illegal to sell recalled items, sellers might not know of a tool recall.
And, because tools are considered specialty items, recalls may not make newspapers or the evening news, says Tim Carter, a former contractor who publishes tool and other recalls online at www.askthebuilder.com and in a free emailed newsletter.
You might see it on television news, but they see it as small and inconsequential, Carter says of a typical tool recall.
The only other way Im aware of is you might be able to go to (the federal Consumer Product Safety Commission or) the tool manufacturers websites and claw your way through, trying to find news about it, and thats among the most frustrating thing you can do because those sites are not as user-friendly as they think they are.
Where to find out
But that doesnt mean that there arent quite a number of widely sold tools that have recently been recalled. Last year, Toney said, about three dozen were listed in the hardware and tools and home and garden and other categories on the website.
And they are not just off-brand or inexpensive items.
The Toro zero-turn mowers, for example, sold for $7,700 and up and were found not only to leak gas if the belt wore through the fuel tank but also to pose a fire hazard.
Often, stores that have sold recalled products post notices about recalled products – the Menards on Illinois Road, for example, places the notices at the stock location or at the return counter just inside the doors. Lowes and Home Depot have notices on their websites.
Toney says consumers who use wemakeitsafer.com can check recalls going back to 1999 by name or type of tool. There is one section for tools, hardware and building supplies, and another for home and garden items, including mowers.
Users can get remedy information for recalled tools, check tools they are considering buying or selling and register tools they own so they will receive an alert if the tool is recalled. The site includes as many pictures as possible so if the tool comes in different styles, colors or packaging, its easier to match up, Toney says.
She says the number of recalls in the tools and hardware categories had an enormous increase in the number of units recalled in 2012.
The reason was not immediately clear, she says, but it may be because of a large number of units for a few items – for example, the recalled air compressors under the Craftsman and other labels amounted to 500,000 for a single recall.
Toney says some advanced services of the site, in operation since 2011, require consumer registration, but the company does not share or sell consumers information. Instead, it relies on advertising and selling data services to manufacturers, retailers and other businesses.
Register right away
Change, though, might be coming for the tool recall system. One problem critics point out is that mass dissemination of recall information to the public is not efficient because the information needs to reach, relatively speaking, only a small number of directly affected users.
The answer isnt telling the world theres a recall in the hope of reaching the few people that own a product," Toney says. It is about using technology to home in on just the people who need to know.
One proposal is automatic registration at checkout when a purchase of a new tool is made. But so far, that has been elusive, Toney says, because credit card transactions generally dont include detailed item information; customer information is subject to change; and merchants could find it cumbersome or costly to comply. There are also customer privacy concerns.
An article in the June issue of Popular Mechanics, Why Product Recalls Make You Less Safe, argues that the current system leads to recall fatigue – so many recalls get issued that consumers dont pay attention to them any more.
But, Carter says, consumers need to be more vigilant about sending in warranty and registration cards for tools they buy.
They also need to check online services, including the federally maintained www.recalls.gov, which includes recalls regardless of which federal agency issues them, and www.saferproducts.gov, which includes a reporting feature. Mobile phone apps are available for some of the government sites.
Any time I publish one of those recalls, I get emails just gushing, thanking me – You saved my life, you saved my neighbors life because we had one in our garage. Theyre so grateful, Carter says.