Top 10 largest car recalls in American history

Consumer Reports News: October 12, 2012 03:08 PM

This week's recall of 7.43 million Toyotas for a faulty power window switch that could catch fire has been billed as one of the largest in history. But how big is it really?

It didn't even make the top 10, ranking only 16th on a list of the 21 largest recalls in the United States, according to data tracked by the Center for Automotive Safety. This Toyota recall impacts 2.5 million vehicles, making it about about half the size of the larger of Toyota's two recalls for unintended acceleration in 2009.

Looking at their entire recall list, several facts stand out:

  • Recalls didn't start until 1969, with the founding of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
  • Ford Motor Company has the three largest recalls, by far, on the list, due to electrical components - ignition switches in 1981 and cruise-control switches in 1999 - that were installed across the company's entire lineup.
  • The solution to the largest recall in history, for Ford transmissions that failed to engage Park, amounted to no more than dealers installing a warning sticker. Well, I feel so much safer with that sticker on board.
  • The industry has made an awful lot of progress since General Motors downsized its "A-body" lineup in 1978 that included the Chevrolet Monte Carlo and El Camino. The '78 A-Body amassed perhaps the three most alarming recalls, for collapsing front suspensions, jamming steering mechanisms, and wheels and axles falling off. (My father drove three and could have vouched for several of these maladies.)
  • The latest Toyota recall is nearly 20 percent larger than Toyota's 2009 recall for sticking accelerators; the company's parallel floor mat recall didn't make the list.
  • Other than the Toyota recalls, foreign companies are not well represented on the list. That's not to say they are without blemishes on their record, just that the scale didn't reach Top 10 proportions. For example, Japanese automakers had some problems with seat-belt buckles in the 1980s. And Volkswagen had one recall that mirrored Ford's problems with installing a single faulty component (windshield wipers) across its entire lineup for many years.
Largest U.S. vehicle recalls
Rank # of vehicles Model year Model Problem
1 21 million 1970-1980 Ford cars & trucks Transmissions that fail to engage Park
2 15 million 1992-2003 Ford cars & trucks Cruise control deactivation switch fires
3 7.9 million 1988-1993 Ford Taurus, Explorer, Probe & Mercury Sable Ignition switch fires
4 6.9 million 1965-1970 Chevrolet cars & trucks Unintended acceleration due to broken motor mounts
5 5.8 million 1978-1981 General Motors A-body cars Lower control arm bolt failures can lead to suspension collapse
6 5.4 million 2004-2010 Toyota, Lexus Unintended acceleration risk due to floor mat interference
7 4.1 million 1970-1971 All Fords, Lincolns, and Mercurys Shoulder belt pins
8 3.7 million 1971-1972 All full-size Buicks, Chevrolets, Oldsmobiles, and Pontiacs Rock can jam in steering coupling
9 3.7 million 1986-1991 Honda Civic, Accord, Prelude; Acura Integra, Legend, NSX Seat belt buckle jams
10 3.7 million 1949-1969 All Volkswagens Windshield wipers

Eric Evarts

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