In 1966, the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act empowered the government to recall vehicles that were considered unsafe. Since then, a total of over 390 million cars have been recalled. Out of these, some were recalled from the best of reasons, such as engine failure or safety concerns. However, others were recalled due to mundane details such as leaky fuel lines or bad axles, the kind of issues that are the result of low-quality manufacturing. Every once in a while, a model is reported to have such serious malfunctions, that a mind-blowing number of units are recalled, and the manufacturer hits the front lines for weeks, even months in a row.
Recalls are never pleasant, neither for the manufacturer, nor for the owner. Depending on their gravity and the number of units recalled, it can affect a company’s image irrevocably. This is exactly why many manufacturers choose to use recalls to protect their image. This is because prevention is better than taking risks, and it is wiser to fix a potential problem before it’s too late. Hiding a defect until the last minute is crucified in the media and might prove disastrous for a company’s reputation.
Over the past years, the public has become more accustomed to recalls and companies themselves changed their approach, embracing the process in a concerned manner, as opposed to denying the problem the way they did decades ago. As the automobile industry advances, cars are more complex, new features are added as we speak, making technical issues almost inevitable. However, major recalls that involve serious issues such as engine failure, short circuits that might cause fires, and seatbelt problems are not to be joked with. They lead to potentially deadly accidents and this is why a recall can potentially ruin a company’s name. So which cars have had the highest recalls? Take a look and see if your car was one of them.
10. 1949 through 1969 Volkswagen Beetles, 3.7 million units recalled in 1972
The reason for Volkswagen’s 1972 recall was a wiper screw coming loose, which affected the windshield wiper. This affected the driver’s ability to see the road clearly during rain, snow, or a storm. The recall targeted models from 1949 through 1969, commonly known as the Beetle. The decision was made after the company received complaints from more than 70 Volkswagen owners. However, in 1973, Volkswagen announced that they considered the problem to be not safety related and that the owners should fix the problem at their own expense.
9. 1986 through 1991 Honda models, 3.7 units recalled in 1995
The reason for Honda’s recall in 1995 was the faulty safety buckle, which affected the seatbelt. Honda dealers noticed that the seatbelt plastic release buttons were breaking. Pieces of broken plastic would enter the seatbelt system, jamming it, and preventing the buckle from securing the seatbelt. What’s even worse, drivers could not notice this issue until an accident, when the buckle would most likely cave in. Honda recalled models from 1986 through 1991, which included the Acura Legend, NSX, Integra, Accord, Prelude, and Civic.
8. 1971 and 1972 General Motors models, 3.7 million units recalled in 1973
The reason for General Motors’ recall was stones entering the engine compartment due to a stone-guard assembly error. This affected the underbody shields. The models affected were the 1971 and 1972 Buick Centurion, the LeSabre, Electra, Estate Wagon, Riviera, Chevrolet Bel Air Biscayne, Caprice, Impala, Brookwood, Kingswood, Oldsmobile 88 and 98, Grand Ville, Catalina, and Pontiac Bonneville. Large stones could make their way between the steering coupling and the frame, which prevented the vehicles from turning left, affecting the driver’s ability to steer the car. The issue was resolved by replacing the stone-guard assembly.
7. 1970 and 1971 Ford models, 4.1 million units recalled in 1972
The reason for Ford’s recall was faulty seatbelts that were breaking and detaching. This affected the entire seatbelt system. The issue affected almost all vehicles manufactured by Ford for the U.S. between 1970 and 1971, among which were the Lincoln and Mercury. The more than 4 million units that were affected had to be recalled in order for Ford to fix the problem: a grommet in the seatbelt system, that broke down with wear, preventing users from fastening their seatbelts. Ford found a cheap fix for the problem because the component cost only a few cents.
6. 1978 through 1981 General Motors models, 5.2 million units recalled in 1981
The reason for General Motors’ third major recall in history was a faulty rear-suspension bolt, which connected the control arm to the frame. The models affected were the ones manufactured between 1978 and 1981, the Buick Century, regal, El Camino, Monte Carlo, Malibu, GMC Caballero, Oldsmobile, Pontiac Grand Prix, Cutlass, and Le Mans. Regardless on whether the car is all-wheel-drive, front-wheel-drive, or rear-wheel-drive, all suspensions are of great importance. They absorb shocks, ensuring passenger comfort and vehicle stability. If any part of a suspension fails at high speeds, there’s an increased risk of having an accident. In fact, 27 accidents were reported as being caused by this particular malfunction. This is why General Motors replaced the rear-control arm bolts in the above models in 1981.
5. 2004 through 2010 Toyota models, 6.6 million units recalled in 2009
The reason for this particularly large recall in history was unintended acceleration, which affected models from 2004 through 2010. The Toyota Avalon, Corolla, Camry, Corolla Matrix, Highlander, RAV4, Prius, Tacoma, Tundra, and Lexus modes were affected. The reasons for unintended acceleration in cars are still an enigma and Toyota was not the only manufacturer that had to deal with it. This is because acceleration is hard to recreate in a service. Beginning with 2007, the company began recalling vehicles with incorrectly placed floor mats that prevented the accelerator pedal from working properly. In 2009, Toyota broke its own record when it recalled the most vehicles due to a potentially sticky accelerator pedal system.
4. 1965 through 1970 General Motors models, 6.7 million units recalled in 1971
The reason for General Motors’ second major recall was an engine mount failure, which caused the engine to lift. Back then, it broke the records as the largest recall in history. Models affected were the 1965 through 1970 Chevrolet Bel Air, Camaro, Caprice, Brookwood, Chevy II, Impala, G Series, Kingswood, P Series, Nova, Townsman, and the GMC C Series. However, General Motors did not replace the engine mounts, it simply anchored the engine to the firewall, getting away quite easy.
3. 1988 through 1993 Ford models, 7.9 million units recalled in 1996
The reason for Ford’s second major recall in history was a faulty ignition switch, a short circuit that could cause a fire in the steering column, literally igniting it. The models affected were the 1988 through 1993 Aerostar, Bronco, Escort, Mustang, Crown Victoria, Thunderbird, Tempo, the F-series, Mercury Cougar, Grand Marquis, Lincoln Town Car, and the Topaz. Ford simply replaced the ignition switch.
2. 1992 through 2003 Ford models, 15 million units recalled in 2009
The reason for this overwhelmingly massive recall was a short circuit in the cruise control system that could cause spontaneous combustion. The models affected were the 1992 through 2003 Explorer, Ranger, Excursion, Windstar, E-150-450, F-150-450, Mountaineer, and Mercury. The switch overheated and could smoke or even burn, sometimes hours after the car had been parked, leading to a potential underhood fire.
1. 1970 through 1980 Ford models, 21 million units recalled in 1981
Definitely number one on our list, Mercury and Lincoln models manufactured between 1970 and 1980 were recalled due to movement after the vehicle had been shifted into park. This was a gear position indicator and transmission issue that caused the car to begin moving after it had been parked, shifting into reverse by itself. It was indeed the largest recall of all time, but Ford did not fix the problem. Instead, the company sent notices to the owners informing them of the issue. This way, Ford got away with spending a few million dollars instead of a few billion.
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