An 11Alive investigation uncovered hundreds of vehicles owned by the city of Atlanta and metro counties on the road with open recalls, potentially putting employees and the public at risk. According to the vehicle manufacturers, some of the recalls have caused fires, problems with steering or have hurt drivers in the past.

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11Alive also found most municipalities do not have a policy or rule on the books for fleet management to check for fixed recalls. Manufacturers are required to provide repairs free of charge.

While some municipalities say most recalls are not life-threatening, the risks are high if left unfixed.

Jeff Gaddy knows the consequences first hand. In 2014, the 49-year-old former tree surgeon fell 30 feet in the air when his boom truck’s steel arm, which was holding him up, collapsed.

“The next thing I remember, I think it was a day, day and a half, was waking up in the hospital,” said Gaddy. The accident left him paraplegic. He suffers nerve damage and is in constant pain.

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Jeff Gaddy

The manufacturer later recalled the boom after identifying the strength of the material could crack.

While the recall came little too late for Gaddy, an 11Alive Investigation, in collaboration with Carfax, uncovered 566 city of Atlanta vehicles with open recalls, many on the road today. That’s roughly 10 percent of the city’s vehicle fleet. Per manufacturer notices, some recalls have caused cars fires, injuries and even death.

Sign up for a free Carfax account here

William Johnson is Atlanta’s Public Works Commissioner. His department oversees the city’s vehicle fleet. Johnson says 11Alive’s findings were a surprise and a concern. “There were quite a few of them we just didn’t get notification on,” said Johnson.

William Johnson, Atlanta’s Public Works Commissioner

After providing 11Alive’s findings, Johnson says the city is now checking all city vehicles for recalls. While he suspects some may already be fixed, Johnson blamed car manufacturers for not alerting the city about all recalls.

“What we’re doing now is reaching out to the manufacturers,” said Johnson.

Of the recalled vehicles the city knows about, Johnson says city employees are notified.

“They are…because we have to pull that vehicle in off the street,” said Johnson.

It’s unclear whether that’s always the case. In April, the 11Alive Investigators identified four vehicles in about 20 minutes with open recalls. All were parked alongside city hall and still driven by employees. The vehicles were on the road after 11Alive provided the city with a list of the recalled vehicles.

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The recalls were identified by putting the vehicle identification number (VIN) into a Department of Transportation website (Click here to check for recalls)

Three of the vehicles were related to issues where the manufacturer says the vehicle’s door could open while in motion. One city SUV had two unfixed recalls – one for an issue related to a fuel leak – the other for a problem with power steering.

While none of the city employees driving the vehicles wanted to be interviewed or identified, each indicated they had no idea their vehicle had a recall.

Here is a breakdown of the recalled vehicles by municipalities:

Cobb County is the only government entity which provided 11Alive with a written protocol for how it responds to recalls. Atlanta, DeKalb County, Fulton County and Gwinnett County did not provide a written policy or rule after 11Alive submitted requests for copies.

►LINK: See Cobb County's recall procedure protocol

After sending 11Alive’s findings to DeKalb County, Commissioner Jeff Rader’s office is the only lawmaker to provide a written response.

“We are aware that all vehicles that have an outstanding recall pending have been inspected and none of the outstanding recalls are safety critical and therefore the cars are still in service,” wrote Caroline Enloe, Rader’s chief of staff in an email.

Enloe also provided these statistics:

DeKalb has 372 outstanding recalls (involving 245 vehicles)

  • 159 of these have been inspected and cleared by DeKalb but only the dealer can clear the recall off the VIN registry/Carfax.
  • 106 have been scheduled for repairs (to be done by dealer)
  • 76 of these need to be checked for computer software updates
  • 29 have been completed or no longer required

Gwinnett County Chairperson Charlotte Nash also responded by email.

"We’re confident in our process to respond to manufacturer recommendations regarding vehicle recalls. This includes identifying and taking out of service recalled vehicles that should not be operated as well as completing recommended vehicle repairs as parts become available,” wrote Nash.