Since the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) was established in 1970, manufacturers of motor vehicles and parts have been required by law to comply with NHTSA safety standards and issue recalls when safety-related defects are discovered.
Due in part to the internet and the increasing spread of information among consumers, recalls have increased in frequency since the mid-1990s. Half of the 14 biggest auto recalls of all time were announced in the last 10 years, and in 2016, the number of vehicles recalled in the United States reached an all-time high.
Over time, the average age of recalled vehicles has risen from about 24 months in 1980 to 50 to 60 months today. Many of the vehicles involved in the biggest auto recalls of all time are among the longest-tenured brands. Here is a list of the longest-running car models in history.
Based on data collected from the NHTSA’s recall database, 24/7 Wall St. identified the 14 biggest car recalls of all time. In the case of the 1981 Ford recall, while the automaker never technically issued a recall of its vehicles, it is considered by the NHTSA to be a type of recall, and we treated it as such.
Many of the biggest auto recalls have been linked to dozens of deaths, with the largest tolls coming from faulty ignition switches in GM vehicles and pedal entrapment in Toyota cars. For more information on deadly lapses in car safety precautions, see this list of the deadliest cars in history.
Several of the largest auto recalls stem from faulty airbags made by former Japanese manufacturer Takata. The company’s defective airbags, which had the potential to blast hot shrapnel into the car when deployed and have been linked to at least 11 deaths to date, were installed in some 40 million vehicles. The scandal led to major recalls from automakers such as Honda and Fiat Chrysler and earned Takata the top spot on the list of companies with the worst reputations in 2018.