Ghost Recalls: UPPAbaby’s Semi-Secret Knox Car Seat Recall Sparks Confusion, Concern

(BOULDER, CO. Published: May 8, 2020) The Ghost Recall.

That’s the term we’ve coined for products that are quietly pulled from the market by a company to fix a safety defect.

Or a ghost-recalled product stays on the market, but the company makes a quiet design change to address a defect . . . but then refuses to recall older product with the safety concern.

Ghost recalls are done without any public announcement . . . and that’s where the problems start.

Perhaps the most famous example is Britax’s non-recall recall of the BOB stroller, as extensively reported by Todd Frankel in the Washington Post.

In a nutshell, Britax’s BOB stroller allegedly had a defective front quick release wheel—and that caused some 200 reports of accidents. One hundred adults and children were injured . . . but Britax didn’t have to do a formal recall, thanks to a questionable deal it struct with safety regulators.

In 2016, Britax quietly redesigned the BOB’s quick release wheel “for added safety and usability,” the company said in a press release. But the company refused to recall 500,000 strollers that had the original, allegedly defective design.

UPPAbaby’s “retrieval” of the Knox convertible car seat

That brings us to the saga of UPPAbaby’s troubled Knox convertible car seat.

First announced in October 2018, the Knox was repeatedly delayed. It was scheduled to debut in 2019. Then the ship date slipped to 2020. Finally, the seat was released in March 2020. Of course, that delay is not terribly unusual—new car seats often run late, as testing can delay launches.

What’s different here is what happened after UPPAbaby’s seat was released.

As first reported on this blog last week, UPPAbaby pulled the seat from the market after just one month for a serious safety defect—the seat could tip over (lateral movement) when in the rear-facing position, even when a parent thinks it is correctly installed. We have concerns about whether this could cause the seat to fail in an accident.

A video surfaced on YouTube in April from a parent who documented the seat’s failure (for the record, we can’t independently confirm this seat was correctly installed, as the parent claims):

To its credit, UPPAbaby quickly moved to pull the seat from the market. On April 24, UPPAbaby issued a “stop sale” to retailers, telling them to stop the sale of the Knox and return the seat to UPPAbaby.

At the same time, the company sent emails to consumers, offering full refunds if parents sent back the harness/buckle system of the seat (rendering it useless).

All that was well and good . . . except the company failed to make a public announcement on the recall. Not on their web page. Or Facebook. Or Instagram.

This left some parents confused—was this a real recall? Or fake news?

“Is this legit?”

In a posting on Facebook groups that discuss UPPAbaby products, this parent wondered aloud if the email about the Knox safety defect was real (we’ve redacted the parent’s name):

Ghost Recalls: UPPAbaby's Semi-Secret Knox Car Seat Recall Sparks Confusion, Concern is this legit?

How would a parent know this is authentic, short of calling the company (assuming they are open when you receive it)?

One obvious way to confirm a voluntary safety recall would be to do a Google search or go to UPPAbaby’s own web site. Yet that would have returned no official word on April 28. Or today. Instead, parents had to resort to social media to see if the email was real.

What if parents missed that email? What if they never registered the seat?

Adding to the concern: the Knox was widely distributed—it was sold on Amazon and Buy Buy Baby, as well as on the web sites of independent baby gear stores.

How many seats were sold? UPPAbaby refused our request for sales numbers:

“We are a privately held company and do not share sales numbers publicly,” UPPAbaby’s Sarah Hines told us in an emailed response.  The statement continued:

“However, we are happy to share information pertinent to your questions about our ability to successfully contact our consumers who had purchased a KNOX car seat. The KNOX had only been on the market for a couple of weeks, which coincided with the vast majority of the country being under stay at home orders.”

“With the cooperation of all of our retail partners, it was very easy to collect customer data for all KNOX purchases due to the fact that during this time period these purchases had been transacted remotely. It was a very efficient and effective process. At this time, all KNOX owners have been directly contacted, and they have been extremely receptive and responsive. The process they are following eliminates the possibility of further use of the seat.”

Knox car seats STILL for sale online

Despite UPPAbaby’s efforts, we found the Knox for sale as of May 5 on this independent retailer that said the seat was in stock:

Knox seat still for sale as of Screen Shot 2020-05-05 at 6.54.36 PM Ghost Recalls: UPPAbaby's Semi-Secret Knox Car Seat Recall Sparks Confusion, Concern

 

(For the record, the PeppyParents website now says as of this writing the Knox is sold out—but no mention of the recall).

On May 1—seven days after UPPAbaby issued their “stop sale” notice to retailers—we found the Knox for sale on Albee Baby:

 

Knox Car Seat Still for Sale on Albee Baby

UPPAbaby Knox still for sale on resale market

We found this UPPAbaby Knox for sale on Houston’s Craigslist site as of this writing:

 

Ghost Recalls: UPPAbaby's Semi-Secret Knox Car Seat Recall Sparks Confusion, Concern Craigslist posting of seat for resale

 

An unsuspecting parent could purchase this seat and have no idea it has a serious safety defect. That’s unacceptable, in our opinion.

How many UPPAbaby Knox car seats are still in circulation? We don’t know.

Was the Knox recall approved by government safety regulators?

We asked that question of UPPAbaby, as our search of the National Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)’s database turned up no mention of the Knox recall. (The NHTSA regulates car seats, while the Consumer Product Safety Commission regulates all other baby gear products).

UPPAbaby didn’t respond to our query on whether the NHTSA approved of this recall, but did claim they are in compliance with testing and reporting:

UPPAbaby has always and will continue to meet all industry and federal regulatory requirements regarding product testing and reporting.

We put in a call to a spokesperson at the NHTSA to ask about the Knox recall, but didn’t hear back as of press time.

Meanwhile, UPPAbaby has disputed our reporting on the Knox recall as inaccurate:

This is not a recall. Recalls, by definition, can only be enacted by a government agency. This is a voluntary proactive retrieval, and to refer to it as an “unofficial recall” and/or “voluntary recall” as you have repeatedly done is simply inaccurate reporting.

We stand by our reporting on this story.