The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Britax sent defective fix to customers in deal to avoid safety recall of its BOB strollers

Britax’s BOB stroller.
Britax’s BOB stroller. (Dustin Franz/For The Washington Post)

Britax Child Safety sent defective replacement parts for its BOB jogging stroller to nearly 200 customers in recent weeks, according to the company, raising new questions about a settlement with U.S. regulators that allowed the company to avoid a safety recall.

The fix — a new metal bolt for securing the BOB stroller’s front wheel — was being offered by Britax as part of an agreement with the Consumer Product Safety Commission that was reached late last year and ended the agency’s pursuit of a mandatory recall. The agency claimed hundreds of BOB stroller crashes and nearly 100 injuries were caused by the spontaneous failure of the BOB’s front wheel. Britax said the wheel was safe, however, and that consumers were at fault for the crashes. But as part of its settlement, the company agreed to launch an online safety campaign in January and to offer some consumers two new ways of securing the front wheel on the three-wheel stroller.

Britax said that so far it has received four reports of “breakage on thru-bolt axles,” according to a statement released Thursday, shortly after an inquiry from The Washington Post. The company said that 197 customers received the potentially defective bolts but that it had no reports of injuries. Britax said it was working to develop a new bolt. It also said it was not aware of problems with the other replacement part, a modified quick-release axle.

The CPSC said it was aware of the issue, but agency spokesman Joe Martyak declined to comment further on “compliance deliberations.”

Brian Awsumb of Minneapolis said in an interview that the replacement bolt he received in late April for his BOB stroller broke into two pieces the day after he installed it. He said it was disturbing that Britax’s remedy for one problem with the stroller resulted in another.

“Good thing we weren’t running with our 7-month-old baby,” Awsumb said.

The defective bolts are the latest problem for Britax since its settlement with federal regulators in November. That settlement was the subject of an investigation by The Post into how the consumer safety agency backed off its demand for a recall. The settlement was controversial — approved 3 to 2 by the agency’s commissioners.

Despite the agency’s claim that it was aware of the bolt problems, four commissioners contacted by The Post on Thursday said they had not been told about it. Later, they were informed about the case.

“This is deeply disturbing,” said Commissioner Peter Feldman, who had voted to accept the earlier settlement.

Commissioner Robert Adler, who voted against the original deal, said the bolt issue shows “that when you don’t call something a recall, this is the response you get.”

This comes one month after The Post found that Britax had failed to send out timely notices to resellers about the stroller safety campaign, as required by the settlement.

Britax also needed to send notices about the campaign to retailers and consumers, according to the settlement. The company said those notices were sent out on time, but two consumers and one major retailer, REI, said they could find no sign of ever receiving the notices.

Now reports of defective parts are leading to additional scrutiny for Britax.

“The CPSC must be on top of this to ensure the settlement is going as planned,” said Rachel Weintraub, general counsel for the advocacy group Consumer Federation of America. “And apparently it’s not.”

Two BOB stroller users who contacted The Post said the company offered to send them new strollers free of charge — in exchange for returning their old strollers and the defective part.

Neon Brooks, who lives in Portland, Ore., said the company called her recently and told her to stop using the stroller immediately. Her bolt had not broken. But she also had not used the stroller recently.

Britax also offered to send a courier to pick up the defective part from her home, Brooks said.

Awsumb said that he used to love his family’s BOB stroller and that they used it constantly. He recommended the BOB to strangers. He said he was firmly “part of the cult of BOB” — people who swore by the popular stroller.

But now Awsumb sees his family’s BOB differently. “I don’t think this stroller is safe anymore,” he said.