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Thinking about Recalls

It finally happened. After all these years, I got my first recall notice. It was for my car. I called the dealer to schedule an appointment and was told that the first available slot was for nearly six weeks from that date. The scheduler said they had been inundated with recalls for that particular problem.

Was the recall really necessary? I asked.

Yes, it involved a potential safety issue, the scheduler told me. Constant abrasion of a wire in the steering column could wear through the insulation around it, exposing a wire and resulting in the airbag’s suddenly deploying. Not something one wants to happen in traffic or when he’s speeding down the highway (at the speed limit–or faster). So I scheduled my appointment. After all, the problem was to be repaired at no cost to me.

Well, today was the day. I pulled the car into the service area and produced the recall letter as instructed. As the service manager was checking me in, I made small talk. Had he had a lot of people bringing in their cars for this problem? Not really, he replied. In fact, he couldn’t remember seeing another one before mine. (Then why had the scheduler told me they had been inundated with them, and why had I had to wait nearly six weeks for the appointment?)

It shouldn’t take long, the service manager assured me when I told him that I would be waiting. An hour and a half later, a service person came to the waiting room to tell me that I absolutely needed to have two filters replaced and the cooling system flushed–for only $170 plus taxes. (I politely declined and later replaced the filters, which I already knew had to be replaced) myself.)

This incident set me to thinking about recalls. Why do they occur? Some of them are to resolve legitimate problems, of course, but how is the average person supposed to be able to discern whether the repairs are actually necessary or if the dealer is just trying to make a fast buck? After all, auto engines are so complicated today that even people who were whizzes with auto mechanics a quarter century ago scratch their heads in amazement when they raise the hood of the average car today. Caveat emptor! “Let the buyer beware!”

That incident also made me think about other kinds of things that often need to be recalled. After having spent decades in the publishing industry as both an editor and a writer, I never cease to be amazed at how often, no matter how carefully one examines the printed page or how many different sets of eyes examine it, mistakes still slip through. Factual errors, omissions, typos, and other problems pop up no matter how careful one is. One’s mind is blinded to what is obvious to first-time readers of the material. One’s mind supplies words that are missing because he or she is too familiar with the content. Often, such mistakes are inconsequential, but at other times they can be critical. Once the product goes to print, it’s too late to correct the errors. Oh, an errata list can be issued or a second edition produced, but that only draws attention to errors that perhaps might not even have been noticed if we hadn’t publicized them.

Even more dangerous, however, are our spoken words. Once uttered, they cannot be recalled. The damage has been done. “I’m sorry” comes too little, too late. That’s why preventive care is the best way of dealing with those problems, just as it is with auto mechanics–don’t let them happen to begin with. It’s better to pray, as the psalmist did, “Set a watch, O Lord, before my mouth; keep the door of my lips” (Psa. 141:3). And as Abe Lincoln famously said, “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt!”

Whether one is referring to auto mechanics, one’s physical condition, the printed word, or the spoken word, preventive maintenance is always better than a breakdown or a wreck.

Copyright (c) 2017, Dennis L. Peterson

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