After more than 100 off-road machines made by Polaris Industries unexpectedly burst into flames, killing at least one rider and injuring others, the Minnesota company announced Tuesday that it has agreed to recall 133,000 recreational off-highway vehicles.
The recall is one of the largest ever announced by an off-road vehicle manufacturer, according to a Star Tribune analysis of recalls announced by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).
“This is Polaris’ largest recall, and we take the matter very seriously,” Polaris said in a written response to questions from the Star Tribune. “We conducted a thorough investigation to pinpoint the root causes of fires and other thermal-related events. In consultation with [the safety commission], we developed a comprehensive corrective action plan to address them.”
The models involved in the recall include some of the most popular in the Polaris portfolio: the RZR 900 and RZR 1000 recreational off-highway vehicles, or ROVs. The model years range from 2013 to 2016. A more limited recall involving 53,000 RZR machines was announced in October. Those machines are included in this week’s recall.
Altogether, the RZR vehicles were involved in more than 160 fires, resulting in 19 injuries and the death of a 15-year-old girl in Utah, according to federal officials.
Baylee Hoaldridge died last fall, four months after the RZR her family rented for the July 4 holiday tipped over and burst into flames. County investigators said the vehicle was apparently traveling too fast to negotiate a turn. The RZR 900 caught fire shortly after the four riders were freed from the vehicle, according to local news accounts.
Hoaldridge suffered burns over 65 percent of her body and endured 27 surgeries in the months after the accident, according to her obituary. The teenager died in November, after she was taken off life support.
In previous interviews, attorney Paxton Guymon, who represents the Hoaldridge family, blamed the teenager’s death on a defective product, saying: “A machine like this should never catch fire just from tipping on its side.”
In the October recall, CPSC officials blamed the fire hazard on RZR’s faulty fuel tank line, which can be pinched and cause the tank to pressurize and leak fuel.
In response to questions from the Star Tribune, Polaris officials said the fire that killed Hoaldridge remains a mystery. The company declined to make executives available for questions.
“We remain deeply saddened by the tragic death of Baylee Hoaldridge,” Polaris said in the statement. “We have expressed our sympathy and condolences to the Hoaldridge family. Unfortunately, due to the nature of the tragic rollover incident, we are unlikely to ever know what caused the fire.”
Guymon said the Hoaldridge family is not pursuing litigation against Polaris, but he declined to address whether the family had reached an out-of-court settlement with the company.
“I do think Polaris is going to great lengths to make these vehicles more safe, and I very much applaud that,” Guymon said Tuesday.
Neither Polaris nor the CPSC provided details of the other incidents involving the RZR. However, the off-highway vehicles have been linked to a number of other serious incidents.
In Georgia, a 10-year-old girl was credited with saving the life of her 7-year-old sister in a July 2015 incident involving a Polaris RZR. Reese Elrod and her younger sister were riding the vehicle around the family’s property when her sister complained that her back was getting hot, according to an account of the incident in a newspaper in Cartersville, Ga.
Reese spotted flames and jumped out of the vehicle, but her sister couldn’t open the door, so Reese climbed back in and helped her sister climb over the door. By the time the girls’ father arrived with a fire extinguisher, the RZR was engulfed in flames. In recognition of her bravery, Reese was named “firefighter for the day” by the local fire department. She told reporters she was “scared” but “just knew I had to get my sister out.”
In the recall announcement, CPSC officials noted that the 19 reports of injuries involving RZR machines included people who suffered first-, second- and third-degree burns.
“Consumers should not have to worry about taking their ROV out for a ride and the vehicle catching fire,” CPSC Chairman Elliot F. Kaye said in a written statement. “We are aware of at least 160 fires associated with these models, including one that led to the tragic death of a 15-year-old girl. I strongly urge owners of these ROVs to immediately stop using them and take advantage of the free repair Polaris is providing.”
As part of the recall, Polaris agreed to immediately suspend the sale of all of the affected RZR models until they are repaired. The company said it is sending recall letters to owners whose addresses are on file with the company, but it also urged owners to check the company’s website for the specific vehicle identification numbers involved in the recall. Repairs will be provided free of charge and service appointments should last about an hour, Polaris said.