Top 10 Car Recalls in History

Most vehicle owners will receive at least one recall notice for their vehicle during the course of the normal three to five-year ownership period. Even if you haven’t experienced the condition that is described in the recall notice (most people will never experience the condition), it can leave you worrying about your vehicle a little.

Take comfort, though, because most recalls are minor in nature. Many are as simple as an inspection of a part to make sure the part number is correct, or a quick replacement of a switch, hose, sensor, or something else to prevent premature failure.

Recalls may only affect a very few vehicles. In some cases, recalls may apply to only a dozen vehicles worldwide. On the other side of that coin, there are some recalls that have serious implications for millions of vehicles.

In the past four or five decades, there have been some really massive recalls issued that have cost carmakers millions of dollars. Here are the top ten largest car recalls in history.

1. Toyota’s sticking gas pedals

Affecting more than nine million vehicles worldwide, Toyota models from 2004 to 2010 ranging from cars to trucks and SUVs were affected. It was a combination of floor mat issues and accelerator pedals sticking that caused multiple recalls totalling more than $5 billion in costs.

2. Ford’s failed safety catch

In 1980, recalls covering more than 21 million vehicles were issued for vehicles that could potentially roll away. A safety detent in the gear shifter could fail, and the transmission could slip from park to reverse spontaneously. The recall cost Ford around $1.7 billion.

3. Takata seat belt latch failures

A ten-year span of seat belts supplied by Takata were recalled after several buckle buttons were found to crack and jam, failing to release the seatbelt and trapping the passenger. 8.3 million vehicles from several domestic and foreign makes were affected, resulting in around $1 billion in related costs.

4. Ford cruise control switch fires

In 1996, a massive recall covering 14 million vehicles was issued by Ford for cruise control switches that could overheat and smoke - or start a fire. The minor repair cost only $20 per vehicle, but resulted in a total cost of $280 million.

5. Ford’s smoking ignition switches

Shortly before the cruise switch recall, this ignition switch recall was issued due to ignition switches which would, well, ignite. The overheated circuit could start a fire in as many as 8.7 million affected cars, trucks, and SUVs, costing Ford $200 million in repairs.

6. Chevrolet’s faulty ignition switches

In 2014, General Motors launched one of their largest recall campaigns ever, replacing 5.87 million ignition switches across several models they built. Affected were the Oldsmobile Alero, Chevrolet Grand Am, Malibu, Impala, Pontiac Grand Prix, and many more.

This recall was spawned by crashes that occurred when the ignition suddenly turned back on its own, deactivating the airbags and causing the driver to lose control of their car. Unfortunately, it seems General Motors was aware of the trend up to ten years before issuing a recall for the condition.

7. GM’s control arm failure

Back in 1981, several late 70’s GM models were recalled due to a [rear control arm that could separate] Clearly, it’s not a good thing if rear suspension parts start coming loose. If the control arm did come loose, it was quite likely that the driver would lose control of their car.

This recall spanned a few years of GM vehicles, and affected a grand total of 5.82 million vehicles.

8. GM’s engine mount recall

It’s unlikely anyone remembers this recall in its infancy, although 6.7 million vehicles were affected by it. In 1971, General Motors issued this recall to address failing motor mounts that could cause a vehicle to accelerate suddenly and cause an accident or loss of control.

The repair was to simply install a restraint to keep the engine in place, adding to the structure of the engine mount.

9. Honda’s Takata airbag recalls

One of the most well-known recalls is the Takata airbag recall, mainly because the recall is current and ongoing - and even expanding. In the event the driver’s side airbag deploys on an affected vehicle, shrapnel from the airbag could be propelled into the driver’s face. 5.4 million vehicles are affected by this recall.

It’s a pretty gruesome recall if you consider the implications in an airbag deployment. It’s hard to see how it could’ve been missed or overlooked in laboratory testing.

10. Volkswagen windshield wiper problems

In 1972, Volkswagen issued a recall for 3.7 million vehicles because a screw could come loose. It wasn’t just any screw, though; it was one that could cause the wipers to stop working altogether. It posed a danger to drivers, especially in rainy and snowy weather where the wipers need to be used constantly. Those 3.7 million vehicles spanned a range of 20 years.

Currently, Volkswagen is embroiled in more recalls due to diesel emissions cheat software that was built into many of their late-model cars. The software cheat enables the vehicle to detect when a smog test is being performed, then changes to a mode that pumps out up to 400 times the legal limits of emissions.

Keep in mind that most recalls are issued as a preventative measure by vehicle manufacturers once a potential deficiency has been detected in testing. Most recalls, even safety-related ones, are relatively minor and haven’t produced deadly results.

If you have been notified of a recall issued on your vehicle, contact your vehicle manufacturer to schedule the recall repair at your earliest convenience.

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