Feds to Investigate Graco’s Mass Child Seat Recall

The federal government announced today it will investigate whether child product maker Graco delayed what the government called the largest child seat recall in U.S. history after learning of a safety defect in the seats’ harness buckles.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said in a press release that manufacturers have a maximum of five days to notify their agency once they “reasonably know that an item of motor vehicle equipment, such as a car seat, contains a safety related defect” and will be investigating whether Graco “violated the law.”

“There is no excuse for delaying a recall to address any safety related defect,” NHTSA Deputy Administrator David Friedman said in the release. “If Graco delayed in protecting children and infants from this defect, we will hold them accountable.”

NHTSA said it had applied “continued pressure” to Graco before the company recalled more than six million “defective car seats” earlier this year.

Documents published online by NHTSA show that the agency investigated the car seat problem back in October 2012 based on customer complaints. In January of this year, NHTSA wrote a Graco executive a letter in which the agency requested Graco conduct a recall. The letter said Graco had received more than 6,000 complaints of buckles that became stuck – many times parents cut the straps to free their child.

NHTSA says Graco initially said that the root cause of the problem was “food, dried liquid drinks, vomit, formula, etc.,” seeping into the buckle and mucking up the works.

Later, however, the company submitted a “Defect Information Report” to the agency regarding a problem with the harness buckles on some 3.7 million of their car seats in February, and expanded the recall population to over 4.1 million the next month. Then in June, the company recalled another nearly two million rear-facing infant car seats. In all, more than 6 million child seats are estimated to be affected.

In a federal form posted online today, NHTSA said the new investigation will deal with the “timeliness of reporting a defect in the harness buckles” of the child seats.

“The safety of our products and the consumers that use them is paramount and underlies every decision we make,” Graco said in a statement to ABC News. “Graco takes all consumer feedback related to our products seriously and we work diligently to make changes and modifications to improve the safety and usability of our products. We thoroughly analyzed all data related to the buckles and took the required actions to keep our consumers safe. We worked cooperatively with NHTSA throughout its investigation and will continue to do so moving forward.”

The Graco website features a section devoted to the recall, saying the seats are still safe and can be used until Graco can provide a replacement part. The website noted that no injuries have been reported related to the buckle issue.

The NHTSA announcement comes just two weeks after Graco announced it was recalling nearly five million child strollers due to a “fingertip amputation hazard.”

The next day, ABC News “20/20” reported the findings of an investigation into the flawed product recall system, showing that the Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates that for the average recall, up to 80 percent of the potentially dangers products are never returned or accounted for. In particularly bad cases, the government agency can only account for five percent of recalled items.