When car parts fail, it can lead to major accidents and fatalities. A bad airbag leads to flying shrapnel, while a bad switch can affect nearly any system. Automakers tout high safety ratings as a big selling point, but a big enough recall can hit them right where it hurts — in the reputation. After all, when shopping for cars, consumers look for safe and reliable options. A recall implies that a car isn't safe and may not be reliable. That makes manufacturers reluctant to issue recalls, so when it happens, it's big news. Some of the largest recalls in history affected dozens of countries and millions of car owners. Over the last couple of decades, some of these brands have nearly had to sell their souls to make up for lost sales.
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An optional configuration on some Chevy Silverados and GMC Sierras led to a recent major recall. Trucks were spontaneously igniting. That's right. They actually burst into flames. The combination of an engine block heater and the Duramax 6.6-liter diesel engine turned out to be toxic. To date, there is no fix for the issue, and GM has currently pulled the design. In America, 324,000 trucks should head back to the manufacturer. While that's a relatively small recall, the lack of a solution means it will be an expensive one.
Fiat Chrysler hits the list for major recalls with one that affects Dodge Darts produced between 2013-2016 with 6-speed automatic transmissions. If you drive one of these, be careful when dropping it into park. The shifter may say P, but the transmission could still be in gear. This problem affects more than 300,000 automobiles and happens due to a worn bushing. Sure, it's a simple fix if you catch it in time, but if you don't, you could watch your Dart roll gracefully away.
In 2001, Ford recalled a total or more than 13 million Firestone tires. Why? They disintegrated at high speed. That's right; these tires essentially disappeared when you needed them most, putting everyone in the vehicle at risk. Plus, since these tires were commonly found on trucks and SUVs, the rollover risk skyrocketed. While the recalls didn't start until 2000, the affected tires rolled out starting in 1992. That's a long time to miss such a major issue.
A faulty ignition switch in a ton of GM models causes the key to slip from on to accessory mode. A small turn of the key means the engine turns off, electrical power is limited, and airbags don't deploy. When this recall was originally issued in 2014, it was just for the 2003-2007 year models, but more recently it has expanded to include the entire production line for affected models. That means all Cobalt, HHR, Ion, Sky, G5, and Solstice models need immediate repair.
Texas Instruments might be a name that brings up images of a bulky graphing calculator, but it is also the name behind a failed cruise control switch in some Ford models. In 2005, Ford issued a recall going back as far as 1994 for this switch, since it can leak and ignite. In 2009, the company added all model years with the switch installed, bringing the total up to 16 million vehicles, including the Econoline, Windstar, Ranger, Excursion, F-Super Duty diesel, Explorer, and Mercury Mountaineer. A fire is one of the worst things that can happen in a mobile container for a flammable substance like gas.
Airbags are a safety feature, but they only save lives when they deploy properly. The NHSTA is currently involved in an investigation of a wiring issue that may cause failures in the airbag control unit. Hyundai has already recalled nearly a million cars to fix the potential problem, but as many as 12.3 million vehicles may be affected, and it's not just Hyundai. Six automakers are involved in the probe: Fiat Chrysler, Honda, Hyundai, Kia, Mitsubishi, and Toyota. All use parts from the same airbag manufacturer, TRW, and more and expanded recalls may be on the horizon.
In 2009, and then again in 2010, Toyota issued the most massive recall in the company's history. All told, more than 6 million vehicles were affected. And, while the fix for the problem is simple, the potential problems were devastating. Gas pedals could get stuck under the floor mat, leading to unintended and unwanted acceleration. Imagine your pedal going to the floor in a residential neighborhood with regular red lights. It was a recipe for disaster. Toyota Avalon, Camry, Corolla, RAV4, Matrix, Highlander, Tundra, and Sequoia models were affected.
Just when the public might have moved on from the acceleration issues, Toyota issued another major recall. This one affected 7.43 million vehicles worldwide. The trouble? A sticky window switch. Sure, it seems like a minor issue, but once the company announced that the bad window switch could lead to fires, it was a whole different ball game. Toyota took out full-page ads and led a massive campaign to spread awareness. As a result, the company didn't need to post massive fatality or injury numbers along with the recall of cars like the Corolla, Camry, Matrix, RAV4, and other popular Toyota models.
General Motors has a long list of recalls, some of which might have tanked the company in the early years. Today, GM is more proactive, and not all recalls deal with driving safety. In a 2004 recall, Chevrolet Silverado and Avalanche models along with GMC Sierra pickups, all from the early 2000s, were called back due to a faulty tailgate that could break when people sat or stood on them. All told, 3.7 million vehicles were affected.
Some car parts cross brands. A single piece can affect dozens of manufacturers, as the Takata airbag fiasco so ably demonstrated. While originally thought to be limited to Honda models, the problem was much more invasive. The lack of a drying agent used with the installed propellant led to an airbag that could shoot shrapnel toward passengers. Definitely not the safety feature most drivers are looking for. Unfortunately, Takata airbags were installed in 42 million vehicles put out by 19 manufacturers. That's a whole lotta cars that caused one bankrupt parts manufacturer.
Most recalls are a good faith effort to fix a missed design flaw or replace a malfunctioning part. Then, there's VW. The VW emissions recall is anything but a gesture of good faith. This company produced 11 million vehicles with a diesel engine that produced phony emissions test results. In reality, none of these cars would pass an emissions test, but the test mode on the controlling software reported EPA standards met. That's not really a recall; it's more like fraud.
In 2016, GM faced a recall that affected everything from the trucks and SUVs to luxury sports cars and electric vehicles. It wasn't a hardware issue; it was the software. The software controlling airbag deployment had an issue that might prevent deployment during certain types of crashes. Ultimately, this recall affected 3.6 million vehicles manufactured between 2014-2017. The good news is that GM found the problem, reported and voluntarily issued the recall, a big step up from the early years of fighting things out in court.
Nissan wound up recalling a total of 3.1 million cars in 2016 due to a persistent issue with an airbag sensor. The airbag worked fine, but it might not deploy correctly for the passenger. Airbags deploy differently for children vs. adults. In many Nissan models, the faulty sensor meant that an adult could get hit with an airbag deployed for a child. While 2016 was the year that the recall expanded, it had been bothering the brand since it was first noticed in some models in 2013.
In 2013, VW issued an actual recall. One for a manufacturing defect, not an attempt to perpetrate fraud. The 7-speed dual clutch gearbox may be susceptible to power loss when lubricated with synthetic oil. The solution was a simple switch to mineral oil, but many of these cars — more than 3 million — were already on the road. And, VW wasn't alone with this issue. Skoda, SEAT, and Audi all used the same gearbox in some models.
Mercedes, a high-end automotive manufacturer from Germany, is not exempt from its fair share of major recalls. A problem with an overheating starter affected nearly a million cars produced between 2015-2017. If the damn thing didn't start, repeated attempts to turn the engine over could actually lead to ignition — just not the right kind. Your C-Class, E-Class, CLA, GLA or GLC SUV might just burst into flames. That's what happened to more than 50 drivers around the globe.