Recall Trends of the Automotive Industry

With the boom of the automotive industry in the 20th century, it was a natural evolution that advancements of safety for drivers and passengers alike would boom alongside. As production lines over the years continue to churn out more and more vehicles, the priority of safety for drivers and passengers has climbed higher than most other standards in the industry.

Manufactures and Policy-makers are tasked to ensure that cars being designed and assembled to meet the highest of standards, certifying them safe for public use. But this is hard to achieve in the first production due to the complexity of vehicles. 

As the manufacturers introduce innovations and technologies to their cars, it proves difficult to predict possible future failures. If the vehicle or a part of it is determined to pose a significant safety risk to its passengers, driver, or even other people, a recall campaign is initiated. A campaign is immediately launched when the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration or manufacturer of the faulty vehicle discovers the underlying risk.

However much the manufacturers try to prevent recalls on their vehicles, it unfortunately still occurs more often than expected. Once a campaign is initiated, it is the responsibility of the manufacturer to comply, either by offering replacement parts or vehicles, repairing the problem (free of charge), or providing a full refund to their customers.

Using the Vin lookup, the government avails a registry where details of a recall can be accessed. To car owners, it is prudent to pay keen attention to recall information so that they can have their automobiles fixed or replaced, should they fall in the category.

Trends in Automotive Recalls

In a study based on a dataset of 23.1 million UK registered vehicles, reports indicated that there was a spike in the number of recalls between 2002 and 1998. The figure rose to an average of over 120 cars recalled per annum as compared to the previous 50 in the years between 1992 and 1994. 

In the time between 1992 and 2002, the number of cars recalled represented almost half of the vehicles registered in the UK. According to the study, American and European car manufacturers registered the highest number of recalls three times the number recorded by east Asian manufacturers.

In the year 2018, over 8 million cars were recalled in the US due to defects in software. This number was higher than the total of 5 previous years combined. The most significant trend in the year was the spike in electronics defects causing recall. Defects in electronics accounted for the most considerable portion of recalls in 2018. 

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data shows that the number of recall campaigns rose to 914 from 810 in the year 2017. 29.3 million vehicles were affected in 2018, a drop from 30.6 million in the previous year. This was a relief from a spiking trend during the last consecutive years. In 2014, approximately 50 million cars were recalled, 49.8 vehicles in 2015, and a record 50.5 in 2016.

Manufacturers with Most and Least Recalls records that severity of recalls ranges from one manufacturer to another. While most recalls have been made to automotive models with defects posing severe risks, we have also seen vehicles being recalled because of manual typos.

 Manufacturers with the highest recall from 2014 to 2018 include; general motors with 213 recalls affecting 54,942,962 vehicles, ford motors having 40,726,068 vehicles affected by 209 recalls, Chrysler with 208 recalls affecting 40,726,068 and finally Mercedes Benz with 117 recalls and 3,150,014 affected vehicles.

Several manufacturers have been cautious with the quality of models they output and hence have recorded very low recall campaigns

Such brands include; Land Rover with only 35 recalls and 477,080 affected vehicles, Subaru of America Inc., having 35 recalls affecting 3,465,501 cars, Porsche Cars North America had a total of 27 recalls affecting 257,732 vehicles, Volvo LLC recorded only 14 recalls that affected 190,444 cars, and finally Tesla had the least number of recalls, eight campaigns affecting 210,727 cars.

Notable Automotive Recall Campaigns

Ford: 1980s

In the early 80s, Ford Motor company had to recall more than 20 million cars due to a transmission issue that allowed the car to slip from park into reverse. It is regarded as the largest automotive recall in US American car history. 

Ford: 1996

Ford motors had to push the recall button on 7.9 million cars in the mid-nineties due to faulty ignition switches. The defect had been reported to cause several fires in the affected vehicles.

Volkswagen: 2006

Possibly the most controversial automotive recall campaign in recent years, VW had to recall 8.5 million cars due to software installed that gave false results on the number of gas emissions from the vehicle. This was blatantly against the laid down rules by the EU.

Toyota: 2010

The company had to again initiate a recall campaign on 9 million cars due to an acceleration problem. The vehicles would suddenly accelerate because of faulty acceleration pedals. The problem became worse after the company misdiagnosed the issue and had to issue a second recall.

Honda: 2014

Honda motors had to recall over 5.4 million cars due to a defect in airbags. More than 20 other brands were involved in the airbag issue. The airbags were reported to have been faulty as they would not inflate when needed, a potential ingredient of disaster.

General Motors: 2014

Over 5.8 million cars were recalled, costing the manufacturer just over $4 billion. The cause of recall was a faulty ignition switch that was reported to cause airbags not to inflate and cut off the engine while driving.

Toyota: 2014

The Japanese car manufacturer had to recall approximately 7.4 million cars with a faulty electric window mechanism. The issue, although not a severe risk, cost Toyota a substantial amount.


It is ultimately the responsibility of both manufacturers and governing bodies to inform consumers of potentially hazardous faults with their vehicles. Because Americans are reluctant to change, and are keeping their cars for longer than ever before, they must go a step beyond and see to it and the longstanding issues are resolved. If you’re concerned about the model of your vehicle being subject to recall, you can view all US mandated recalls here.