What Are the Most Common Reasons for Motor Vehicle Recalls?

Published on Mar 29, 2022 at 7:08 pm in Product Liability.

car seat

If you follow the news regularly, then you’re bound to come upon a news story in which an auto manufacturer or government regulators are recalling yet another vehicle. There’s no singular reason why these recalls happen either.

We’ll delve into specifics regarding these recalls, including how common they are, what you should make of them, and the most common reasons they occur below. We’ll also highlight some of the more significant recalls that have taken place over the years.

How Often Do Automobile Recalls Happen?

Data compiled by the car enthusiast publication Motor Trend shows that while there may be only several hundred automobile recalls annually in the United States, these events affect tens of millions of cars. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) logged over 900 recalls that affected 55 million automobiles in 2020 alone. As you can tell, recalls aren’t rare and don’t just affect a few motorists.

When Do Recalls Happen?

Recalls can be initiated by one of two parties: an auto manufacturer or NHTSA. While manufacturers sometimes discover defects with their vehicles and recall them voluntarily, it’s more common for the NHTSA to issue them. This federal agency often receives reports of consumers having been injured by a vehicle. Once they’ve received a certain amount of them reporting similar concerns, government officials opt to recall the car in the interest of safety.

What Types of Safety Concerns Might Lead to an Auto Recall?

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that there isn’t one single reason vehicles end up being recalled.

While cars may seem similar to many of us consumers, each manufacturer has its own auto parts fabrication or onboard technology development process and quality assurance protocol in place. Each manufacturer also uses different materials and relies on different workflows in assembling their vehicles.

These variations give way to different defects that ultimately result in recalls.

That being said, issues involving the following auto parts are the most common reasons motor vehicle recalls occur:

  • Seat belts
  • Brakes
  • Electrical components or wiring, such as head or tail lights
  • Tires
  • Door latches
  • Fuel pumps
  • Ignition switches
  • Airbags
  • Accelerators or gas pedals
  • Windows and windshield wipers
  • Steering systems

The list above is far from an exhaustive compilation of concerns that have most commonly resulted in auto recalls. It simply highlights defective auto parts that have most notably been blamed for motorists getting hurt or killed.

Vehicles that have proven to have an increased propensity to roll over have also been recalled. Although not specifically a car component, car seats have resulted in recalls too.

Which Car Brands Have Experienced the Most Recalls?

Data compiled by ISeeCars.com chronicles which auto manufacturers experienced the highest recall rates between 2014 and 2018. The top five that made that list included:

  1. General Motors: 213 recalls affecting 54,942,962 vehicles
  2. Ford: 209 recalls impacting 24,892,471 automobiles
  3. Chrysler: 208 recalls affecting 40,726,068 cars
  4. Mercedes-Benz: 117 recalls impacting 3,150,014 automobiles
  5. Volkswagen: 109 recalls affecting 6,510,514 vehicles

What Are the Least Recalled Auto Brands?

There were six motor vehicle manufacturers (the last two were tied) that experienced the fewest recalls between 2014 and 2018, including:

  1. Tesla: 8 recalls affecting 210,727 automobiles
  2. Volvo: 14 recalls impacting 190,444 cars
  3. Suzuki: 24 recalls affecting 482,866 vehicles
  4. Porsche: 27 recalls impacting 257,732 cars
  5. Land Rover: 35 recalls affecting 477,080 automobiles
  6. Subaru: 35 recalls affecting 3,465,501 vehicles

Recall statistics can shift quickly, though. A report chronicling auto manufacturers who had experienced the most recalls during the first six months of 2020 showed that the following ones were at the top of the pack:

  • Toyota: 3.9 million impacted vehicles
  • Ford: 2.9 million affected cars
  • Volvo: 2.8 million impacted automobiles
  • Fiat Chrysler: 1.7 million affected cars
  • Honda: 1.4 million impacted vehicles

Other auto manufacturers that experienced recalls, albeit not on the same level as the ones above that year, included Kia, Hyundai, Nissan, Mazda, and Volkswagen.

What Are the Most Notable Recalls in Modern History?

While significant focus is placed on auto manufacturers when recalls happen, it’s important to remember that they rely on third parties for some of the parts that go in their vehicles. If you’re curious what defects have resulted in the most recalls over the past few years, they include:

Defective Gear Shifts: We count on our vehicles to move forward, stay in a static location, or go in reverse, depending on the gear we put them into. An accident may occur if that fails to happen.

A malfunctioning gear shift that caused the vehicle to suddenly go from park to reverse resulted in 23 million Ford vehicles being recalled here in the U.S. in 1981. This defect resulted in at least 100 deaths before the recall was ordered.

Igniting Gas Tanks: Sure, we all know that gasoline is flammable. We expect auto manufacturers to place gas tanks so they are far enough from electrical components and potential sources of impact that they won’t easily ignite.

At least 1.5 million Mercury Bobcat and Ford Pinto vehicles were recalled in 1978 after some of their gas tanks suddenly exploded. An investigation into the matter later revealed that these gas tanks’ positioning left them susceptible to igniting in rear-end crashes. Ultimately, 180 motorists died due to this design flaw.

Sudden Acceleration: As motorists, we expect our accelerators only to speed up our vehicles when we apply pressure to the gas pedal.

In a more recent case in 2009, Toyota ended up having to recall an estimated 8 million of their vehicles after it became clear that floormats could get stuck under accelerators, causing the automobiles to accelerate unexpectedly. Toyota ended up paying out as much as $5 billion in settlements and fines after approximately 90 motorist deaths resulted from this defect.

Bad Ignition Switches: Another detail that we count on is the ignition remaining turned in the on or off position when we put it in either one.

In another recent case in 2017, at least 2.7 million General Motors (GM) vehicles ended up being recalled over concerns that their ignition switches would suddenly shift into accessory mode while in operation. Many motorists lost control of their cars and had their cars cut off mid-trip because of this defect. To make matters worse, this defective functioning also resulted in the disabling of airbags. All in all, 124 car occupants died in crashes attributable to this defect, and GM ended up settling those claims for $120 million.

Tire Blowouts: We expect auto manufacturers to carefully vet the third-party products they use to produce their vehicles to ensure that they’re safe. That must not have occurred among manufacturers who used Firestone tires on their vehicles in the mid-1990s.

The tire manufacturing giant Firestone ended up recalling 14 million of its tires in 1996 after 271 individuals lost their lives when their car’s tires blew out, causing motorists to lose control of their vehicles, resulting in crashes.

The aforementioned recalls are only some of many recalls that occurred after product liability attorneys ended up suing auto manufacturers over motorists’ injuries and deaths.

Where to Turn When a Recall Has Left You Injured

The focus of most recall notices is ensuring that you get your vehicle fixed. While that is important, minimal effort is invested in letting you know what your rights are if you’ve suffered injuries or lost a loved one in an incident that’s attributable to auto manufacturer negligence.

Going up against auto manufacturers and their sizable legal teams can seem intimidating. Our attorneys here at Belsky & Horowitz, LLC have experience representing Baltimore residents in these legal matters. Let our attorneys advise you of the rights Maryland law affords during a complimentary face-to-face consultation.



Fill out the form below about your potential case and a personal injury lawyer will get back to you as quickly as possible.