Product recalls have become a common occurrence. Sometimes a faulty item simply makes it through production and has to be recalled before it can cause harm. Automotive recalls are often in the news because the faulty products can be dangerous or even life-threatening — and have resulted in some of the biggest product recalls of all time.
But which cars were recalled and how many of them had to be sent back to the factory before the problem was fixed? We’ve put together a list of the biggest car recalls of all time, ordered from smallest to greatest number of cars recalled.
3.7 Million Cars Recalled by General Motors in 1973
In 1973, a variety of GM vehicles were recalled because of a faulty stone-guard assembly. The assembly that was supposed to prevent stones from bouncing up and getting lodged in the car’s undercarriage didn’t work properly — stones could get caught in such a way that it prevented the car from turning to the left.
This is one of the easier recall fixes on this list though — a bolt-on retrofit was all that was needed to fix this problem and get millions of Buick, Chevy, Oldsmobile and Pontiac cars back on the road.
4.1 Million Cars Recalled by Ford in 1972
Seatbelts didn’t become a requirement until 1959, but by 1972, Ford was already having problems with them. Ford’s seatbelts were found to be dangerously faulty in the event of an accident. There were also complaints that they were too short and couldn’t be used by larger individuals.
Ford ended up replacing all of the faulty seatbelts for free and paying a $95,000 fine for violating the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act. That same fine today would cost the company more than half-a-million dollars.
6.4 Million Cars Recalled by General Motors in 1981
General Motors encompasses a variety of car manufacturers that includes Chevrolet, Pontiac, Buick and Oldsmobile. In 1981, they had to recall a huge number of these cars because of a faulty rear suspension bolt. The bolt could rust, according to the reports, and if it broke free it would cause the rear control arms to drop to the ground. If this happened while the car was being driven, it could cause the car to go totally out of control. All told, 27 accidents were reported as a result of this fault before the recall over.
6.7 Million Cars Recalled by General Motors in 1971
Your car definitely shouldn’t move unless you’re pressing the accelerator, which is exactly the problem that caused this recall in the first place in 1971. A faulty motor mount was found to cause acceleration. If the engine lifted after the motor mount broke, as it is prone to do during acceleration, it could cause the throttle to become stuck open and make the car accelerate.
At the time, this was the largest car recall of all time and cost the car giant tens of millions of dollars in repairs and reparations.
7.4 Million Cars Recalled by Toyota in 2012
The first Toyota recall on this list is easily one of the biggest: 7.4 million cars recalled in 2012. The cars were equipped with power window switches that were faulty and could ignite, presenting a fire hazard. It wasn’t the first recall for Toyota, though, and not even the biggest — they’ve got at least one more entry in this list, so keep reading.
7.9 Million Cars Recalled by Ford in 1996
Fires seem to be a trend when it comes to car recalls. This particular recall, started in 1996, covered Ford, Lincoln and Mercury cars that had been produced between the years of 1988 and 1993 because of a problem with the ignition switch. Specifically, the electronics in the switch were faulty and could overheat and cause a dashboard fire.
The worst part of this recall isn’t the massive recall or the number of calls being recalled — it’s the fact that Ford knew the ignition switch was problematic a full five years before the recall was issued.
8.5 Million Cars Recalled by Volkswagen in 2016
When the whole world is focused on the affects of global warming and climate change, it’s not a good idea to cheat on your emissions testing. That’s what caught up with Volkswagen in 2016 and resulted in the recall of more than 8.5 million cars.
VW admitted to circumventing the emissions control systems in their diesel engines to make them pass emissions requirements to be sold in the United States.
9 million Cars Recalled by Toyota in 2010
This is probably one of the most dangerous recalls on this list. Originally blamed on the floor mats in many Toyota and Lexus vehicles, it turned out that a faulty gas pedal was causing cars to accelerate out of control. This recall caused a number of fatalities before Toyota started recalling the affected cars.
14.9 Million Cars Recalled by Ford Between 1999-2009
No one wants to see their steering wheel catch on fire, but that’s exactly what was happening with Fords between 1999 and 2009. A faulty cruise control switch could potentially ignite and cause a fire in the steering wheel. Once started, the fire could spread to other parts of the car and cause a large amount of damage.
21 Million Cars Recalled by Ford in 1980
You expect that your car will stay where you put it when you leave it in park, but some Fords in the 1980s ended up in reverse instead. It ended up being caused by a fault in the automatic transmission: a piece that separated the park and reverse settings would get rounded off and the car could slip into reverse. A safety label placed on the dashboard of all the Fords produced during that period ended up saving Ford million of dollars in recall costs.
36 Million Cars Recalled by Takata in 2017
The biggest car recall of all time is still ongoing. Faulty airbags produced by Takata are undergoing recalls because the airbag can explode when it deploys and cause additional injury. These airbags have been installed in nearly every car on the market today, so if you’re worried your car might have a Takata airbag installed, make sure you check the recall lists.
In fact, in every case, that’s the most important thing you can do if you suspect that your car — and your personal safety — might be the subject of a recall. Make sure you stay aware of your car’s recall status. Most of the time, recall repairs are completed free of charge by your local car dealership, so check in today or see if the manufacturer offers a mailing list. Being proactive could save your life.