The biggest recalls in automotive history

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These have been the 12+1 largest recalls in the history of the automobile

All brands have been forced at some point to have to review a model, but there are cases that cry out to heaven. Let's see them below.

This week we learned that Ferrari has asked the owners of the SF90 not to use their vehicles. Apparently, they have a defect in an oil passage that feeds the turbo and that can cause a fire. As a precaution, the Italian brand has recalled more than 600 units of the model. It is common, in fact, SEAT has also summoned 300.000 cars to its dealerships to check the airbags, in line with what is done by BMW and the rest of the VW Group brands.

Recalls are almost as old as cars themselves. Even Henry Ford had to contact the first owners of his Ford T to make a change to the seat padding. They had used moss because it was cheaper than traditional wool. Below we have gathered the 12+1 biggest recalls in automotive history, in many cases done in a timely manner, although there have been some who have acted negligently.


Presented in 1971, the Pinto ended up becoming a phenomenal success, with almost 3,2 million units sold until 1980. Unfortunately for the oval firm, it also became a monumental problem due to poorly thought out design. The fuel tank was located at the back, so when a car crashed from behind, a fire often broke out.

The bad publicity that the situation entailed combined with Ford's initial passivity caused a small problem to become gigantic, so that In 1978 the American firm had to recall 1,5 million vehicles for inspection. In reality, only 27 fires occurred, but the reputational damage was tremendous. The case is often held up as an example of poor business management, because by saving $11 per car, they ended up spending millions.


Much less serious is the case of the recall of the German brand, which had to repair 3,7 million vehicles in 1972 in the US., mainly Beetles and T2. The problem was that the retaining screw on the brush arm came loose, causing the brush to fail. Volkswagen insisted it wasn't serious and it really wasn't, unless you ran into a storm, of course. Interestingly, the brand made users pay for the spare parts needed to fix the problem.


It was 1973 when the American giant had to take over numerous Buick, Chevrolet, Oldmobile or Pontiac models, in total 3,7 million copies. The problem was that the underbody did not sufficiently cover the steering mechanism, which did not seem serious if you were driving on asphalt, or so thought GM, who knew the problem and stayed to see them coming.

After knowing almost a hundred incidents that caused a dozen injuries, GM recalled the affected models, which had their lower protection improved.


Until 4,3 million Oval brand cars manufactured in the previous two years were recalled in 1972. The fact is that the seat belt anchor came loose, with consequences that could be fatal. On this occasion, the American firm acted very quickly, as it solved the problem motu proprio before it causes any fatalities.


Nothing less than 6 million vehicles had to return to GM dealerships in 1981 due to a failure that caused screws, bolts and suspension arms to be lost. An error that affected not only cars, but vans and pick-ups from brands such as Buick, Chevrolet, GMC, Oldsmobile or Pontiac.


Attentive to this recall that included a total of 6,68 million GM cars in 1971. The left side engine mount broke, causing the throttle to open, which, in turn, caused more lean of the propeller and more uncontrolled acceleration. It only stopped when the engine hit the closed hood.

The largest recalls in the history of the Chevrolet Monte Carlo automobile

A total of 172 failures were known, causing 63 accidents with 18 serious injuries. General Motors' solution was to hold the engine with a cable, so that, even if it was released, it did not move upwards. Cost less than a dollar per car.


Imagine a buckle that doesn't engage properly, that seems secure, but comes loose unexpectedly or, worse yet, pops off in an accident. That's what happened with the ones supplied by Takata, which caused the recall of 8,4 million cars in 1995. And the Japanese company equipped numerous brands, including most of those from the country of the rising sun, in addition to General Motors Chrysler, or Ford.


The German brand had to invest a veritable million, estimated at nearly 3.300 billion dollars, to repair the damage caused by the so-called "Dieselgate." Total, There were 11 million cars recalled in 2016 when it was discovered that the advertised emissions did not correspond to the actual ones and that VW was not only aware of this, but was responsible.


The Japanese brand was forced to repair nothing less than 14 million vehicles between 2009 and 2015 due to a problem in the electric windows. They were called for inspection in different batches, since they had excessive or insufficient grease in the mechanisms, causing different failures and, especially, risk of fire. The recall affected units sold around the world.


Having your car accelerate on its own is one of the worst scenarios we can imagine behind the wheel. That is what happened with some Toyota vehicles from 2009 onwards, in a recall that affected 20,5 million vehicles. The Japanese brand could not find the problem, which generated some alarm, although known cases were really rare.

Toyota later clarified that, after much investigation, most of the incidents had to do with very bulky mats, pedals that were stuck or drivers who had gotten the pedals mixed up.


No less than 22,7 million units were recalled in 1996 due to a problem with the ignition switch., which was the largest operation of its kind undertaken by a single manufacturer to date. In the first phase, they recalled 8,7 million cars because fires broke out that, fortunately, did not cause fatalities. Up to $200 million was spent by Ford to replace problematic fuses.

Shortly after, another 14 million vehicles had to be checked when it was discovered that another fuse responsible for cruise control was also overheating, which could lead to a fire. This caused the oval brand to have to spend another $280 million at the time on repairs..


A total of 30 million cars had to undergo the corresponding inspection in 2014 due to a problem with the ignition that cut off the power, leaving the car without steering, ABS or airbags, that is, a terrible scenario behind the wheel. Unfortunately, and although General Motors was aware of the problem, it did not act until there were more than 100 deaths and almost 300 seriously injured.

The company was forced to repair all cars at a cost of 1.700 billion dollars, in addition to paying almost 600 million to the families of those affected, at a rate of one million each.


All of the above cases pale before the enormity of the problem faced by the Japanese component company Takata., a problem that ended up affecting the airbags of countless brands: Acura, Audi, BMW, Cadillac, Chevrolet, Chrysler, Dodge, Ferrari, Ford, GMC, Honda, Infiniti, Jaguar, Jeep, Land Rover, Lexus, Lincoln, Mazda, McLaren, Mercedes-Benz, Mercury, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Pontiac, Saab, Saturn, Scion, Subaru and Toyota. Almost nothing.

And the cartridge responsible for inflating the airbag can break when jumping in an accident, turning into shrapnel. That is, an element designed to protect, performing the opposite task. The recall affected 67 million vehicles since 2008, many of which continue to circulate without resolving the problem due to the impossibility of manufacturing sufficient spare parts. It is estimated that up to 11 million cars have not replaced faulty airbags. The cost to Takata was so high that it ended up declaring bankruptcy in 2018.

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Written by Ivan Vicario Martin

I am lucky to have turned my passion into my way of earning a living. Since I left the Faculty of Information Sciences in 2004, I have been professionally dedicated to motor journalism. I started in the magazine Coches Clásicos in its beginnings, going on to direct it in 2012, the year in which I also took charge of Clásicos Populares. Throughout these almost two decades of my professional career, I have worked in all types of media, including magazines, radio, the web and television, always in formats and programs related to the engine. I am crazy about the classics, Formula 1 and the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

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