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Worst Auto Recalls Of All Time– What To Do If It Happens To You

Posted in auto industry, General, Recalls, Safety by Frank | February 11th, 2011 | 4 Responses |

Auto recalls are expensive and aggravating for all concerned – car makers, car owners, their car insurance as a result of any accidents and the dealerships that have to face the problem firsthand. Recalls are not issued lightly, but neither the government nor the auto companies want people getting hurt because of something that could have been fixed.

When a problem arises that threatens to injure consumers, a recall will be issued. For your benefit, then, here are the six worst auto recalls of all time, and what you should do if it happens to you.


Photo source: chuckgardiner.net

This Ford of Canada recall sticker shows what
“Authorized Modifications” were made.

You could be excused for thinking that 2010 was the worst year ever for automobile recalls, seeing that automakers made some of the biggest headlines ever over its various issues. One unnecessary recall in 2009 resulted in 16.4 million being taken off the roads, and “repaired” for a non-existent issue.

 Photo source: businessweek.com

GM has made a lot of news for their car issues, recently.

At the close of 2010, WardsAuto analyzed figures collected by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and discovered that recalls rose by almost a million parts over the previous year. For 2010, there were 17.2 million pales in comparison with the year 2000.

If any year deserves to be called the Year of the Recall, that dubious honor belongs to the year 2000. A grand total of 24.3 million autos were recalled, a large proportion of them because of sub-par, potentially hazardous Firestone tires on Ford SUVs and other models.

1)  GM

YEAR: 1973


Photo source: ezinemark.com

The 1970s – last era for the über-American land barges.

GM issued a recall of 18 models in 1973 – Centurion, Electra, Estate Wagon, LeSabre, Riviera, Belair, Biscayne, Brookwood, Caprice, Impala, Kingswood, Kingswood Estate, Townsmen, Olds 88 and 98, the Bonneville, Grand Ville, and Catalina. Totaling some 3.7 million vehicles, it was the largest recall ever in terms of the number of different car models affected.

Photo source: superseventies.com

Remember the 1970s? It was Tony Orlando time!

Because the under-car safety shields were defective, the engine compartment was not protected from rocks, gravel, and other road debris. If solid object got into the engine from underneath, it could conceivably cause serious damage – at least, this was the fear.

The only reported problems, however, had to do with the steering assembly, another auto system of critical importance to passenger safety.

2)  FORD

YEARS: 1971-1972


Photo source: carmk.com

This was before Ford’s tagline became “Quality is Job #1.”

This recall sometimes is dated to 1971 because the year’s models were the majority of the vehicles affected. Shoulder harnesses for seat belts on various 1970 and 1971 models were judged defective, as the fabric would fray and separate from the metal that connected them to the car’s frame. Ford recalled 4.1 million Rancheros, Lincolns, Mercurys, and Ford trucks.

3)  GM

YEAR: 1981


Photo source: flickr.com

The 1981 Monte Carlo gave buyers “a bum steer.”

What could be scarier than driving along the freeway (worse, a mountain road at night) and having your steering go out? In 1981, drivers of a number of GM models – Regal, Century, Malibu, El Camino, Caballero, Monte Carlo, Grand Prix, Cutlass and LeMans – were faced with that nightmare when the nation’s largest automaker issued a recall of 5.8 million vehicles.

The suspension bolts that were an integral part of the steering assembly could come loose, GM reported. If it happened at just the right (or rather, wrong) time, there would no steering control whatsoever. Fortunately for the affected car owners, the fix was a quick, easy bolt replacement.

4)  FORD

YEAR: 1996


Photo source: ennislaw.com

Many drivers said they were “burned” by Ford.

Ford recalled an astonishing 8.6 million Ford and Lincoln-Mercury vehicles in 1996. Caught up in the faulty ignition system debacle were the Mustang, Escort, Thunderbird, Tempo, Gran Marquis, Crown Victoria, Cougar, Lincoln Town Car, Bronco, Aerostar, and F-Series trucks.

When cars carrying the faulty ignition assembly were put into park, some would catch fire a short time later. Due to the wide-ranging use of that ignition assembly, Ford eventually recalled 8.6 million vehicles out of the ten million vehicles that had it.

The rare “flying Ford truck” doesn’t need any flames.

Photo source: 4wheeloffroad.com

Because of the nature of the problem, and the delay involved, the vehicles were more likely to be parked and garaged when the fire started. This increased the total settlement amount for Ford and its insurers. Some car owners banded together at the time to pressure the automaker, alleging they had been “burned by Ford” – pun intended, sad to say.


YEARS: 2009-2010


Photo source: 4.bp.blogspot.com

It was an unnecessarily grueling year for Toyota PR people.

Toyota’s recall woes, which started in 2009 and continued into 2010, included three separate recalls, which Toyota initiated. If suspicions proved correct – that the problem was in software or the electrical system – the carmaker was looking at a recall in the tens of millions.

In April 2010, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the National Aeronautics and Space Agency (NASA) began an investigation which lasted ten months. Toyota was gratified to hear that the NASA/NHTSA study, released on February 8, 2011, concluded that “The problems were not electrical.”

Photo source:  treehugger.com

Though Toyota vehicles are safe to drive, drivers may still remember the negative news from last year. This damage to Toyota’s brand is as substantive as the damage to other brands which actually required recalls for mechanical and electrical failures. Unfortunately, even if the government reimbursed Toyota for the fines the company was erroneously given, the brand defamation is irreparable.

6)  FORD

YEAR: 2008


Photo source: foodpoisonjournal.com

With Ford’s run of bad luck, they should
probably print up a lot of these.

The biggest recall in auto history started in early 2008 with Ford’s recall of 12 million vehicles for faulty cruise control switches that could catch fire (what’s with Ford and unintentional combustion?). Again, as with the ignition assemblies in the previous decade, there was a delayed reaction, so some parked cars with their engines turned off were catching fire.

The first time around, vehicle owners were slow to respond to the recall, so a second was announced in September to bring in the five million Ford and Lincoln-Mercury cars, vans and trucks not yet repaired. The cost – to Ford, to the government, to consumers – was in the billions of dollars, and the repercussions are still being felt.

Photo source: jalopnik.com

In many ways, Ford’s vehicle quality has improved
tremendously in the last decade or so.

The NHTSA logged over 130 complaints of fires in affected vehicles, and in October 2009 Ford broadened the recall, adding several million more vehicles to the list. The faulty cruise control switch is thus responsible for a total recall of some 14.1 million vehicles, the most ever.


Photo source: scrapetv.com

From new car to clunker in one move – that’s what worries
owners, but most of them are happy with the repairs.

If you own a car that is recalled, you should not be hearing about it on the news. You should be contacted directly by the automaker and/or the dealership where you bought the car. Even if you do hear from them, it would be a good idea to do a little digging to learn about the problem even if the problem has not yet affected your vehicle.

Photo source: autogreenmag.com

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
is on the front lines of auto safety for the U.S. government.

Respond right away to any notices, or contact your dealership if you hear of a recall and have not been contacted. Official recalls, of course, result in your car being fixed at no charge. There are several web sites where you can sign up, for free, to be notified at once if your car is recalled.

In addition, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) keeps track of every recall, and publishes technical service bulletins regularly. The NHTSA web site is an excellent source of information on vehicle recalls.


Vehicles are usually the second biggest purchase the average middle-class American makes, exceeded only by the family home. With a great deal of money and energy tied up in your car, you are completely justified in keeping a close watch on the auto news and staying updated about the quality and maintenance issues with your ride. Stay informed!

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4 Responses

  1. Scary how many recalls there are. I wonder if there are many fatalities from recalls. I read that someone died once due to a faulty CLS Benz. The fuel pump didn’t disengage during the accident which caused the car to go on fire. Scary to spend so much$ on a car and then die.

  2. Kathy Storey says:

    my husband i purchased a 2009 Suzuki Grand Vitara we have had alot of different problems with this car . bad wearing of the tires , loud noise when you turn on the heater, the dash has a bad vibrating noise, rear door rubs when closing it and now the safety recall for the tension pulley crap. they say they are not responsible for the tires , but people have been having problems with it for a lest 4 years now what can we do

  3. Melissa King says:

    Why the GOV. will not do nothing to Ford Company for having so many defected parts on the 2008 Ford Escape. There are over thousand complaints on the internet about this SUV and Ford Company not admiting to the causes of so many people transmission going bad.They had a recall on Transmission cooler but that didn’t help it only burn your transmission out faster.

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