Total Recall: 5 Notorious Recalls and Scandals in Automotive History

We’ve all gotten the letter in the mail at one time or another.  “We are informing you of a recall on your <insert year, insert model>.  Most of these recalls are minor and are easily corrected.  Recalls and scandals came to the forefront once more however, when almost a month ago news of the Volkswagen diesel scandal broke.  VW admitted to installing software to purposely fool emissions testing on their diesel vehicles.  Headlines like these are fairly common, and the automotive industry has had more than its fair share of recalls and scandals.  From unintended acceleration to roll-overs, here is a small list of some of the most notorious and memorable recalls in recent automotive history.

  1. Toyota’s “Unintended Acceleration” (2009-2011 3.8 Million Vehicles)
A photo of a floor mat “jamming” the accelerator down.

The design of floor mats on several Toyota and Lexus vehicles resulted in the accelerator pedal being stuck down.  Toyota cooperated with the NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) and it was found that most of the accidents were a result of floor mats or driver error.  When the issues continued to occur beyond the floor mat recall it was eventually found there was a fault in the accelerator pedals.  More than 3.8 million cars were recalled.

  1. General Motor’s “Ignition Switch” Recall (2014-Present 30 Million Vehicles)

A fault in GM’s ignition switch affected most of their small cars and some of their other models.  This “fault” would cause a GM-Ignition-Switch-Recall-GM-recall-NHTSA-recall-2014wide range of problems from airbags not going off in a crash, to engines completely shutting off.  GM was required to recall 800k initial vehicles and then continued to recall more voluntarily over safety concerns.  When it was found that GM had meetings about the problem as early as 2005, it led to a congressional investigation that is still ongoing. Preliminary reports show GM did not knowingly cover up the information, but were simply not aware of the severity of the problems.

   3.  Ford Cruise Control Switch Recall (1991-2004 15 Million Vehicles)

A defect in a Texas Instruments computer in Ford’s cruise control would cause the system to overheat and catch fire.  This issue affected several Ford and Lincoln model’s from the early 90’s to mid 00’s.  Ford became aware of the issue and made preemptive recalls.  Many experts even urged people to disconnect their cruise control over allegations that vehicles would catch fire even when the car was shut off and cruise control was not used.  Because of the length of time, and number of vehicles involved it became one of the largest recalls in history.  It is important to remember that Ford issued voluntary recalls 3 years before any government mandated ones were issued.

  1. Ford Explorer and Firestone Tire Scandal (1990-2000 6.5 Million Tires)
An image of a tire blowout and roll over on an Explorer.

Faulty tires blowing out led to several Ford Explorers “tipping over” in the 90’s.  The NHTSA brought the issue to the attention of Ford who launched an immediate internal investigation.  The results of their investigation which ended in 2000 were that faulty tires were the culprit.  Firestone’s 15 inch ATX, ATX 2, and wilderness tires had an unusually high failure rate.  6.5 million tires were ordered to be recalled, and Ford went one better by recalling an additional 13 Million.

But how far has the recall process and industry transperancy come since the infant years of the car industry?  Let’s look at one of the most notorious recall scandals in automotive history.

   5. The Ford Pinto (1971-1975 2.2 Million Vehicles)

A Ford Pinto lovingly tagged on the rear end.

While the Pinto is by no means the largest or most costly recall of history, it is one of the most notorious.  A flaw in the design of the fuel lines, and fuel tank position would lead to the fuel lines puncturing and catching fire in a rear collision.  What makes the Pinto memorable is the allegations and surfacing of an internal memo from Ford stating that it would be “cheaper to pay off lawsuits than fix the problem”.  While this memo refers to the Pinto’s rollover safety and not rear collisions, the reputation damage was done.

The Pinto incident/scandal is still cited as a case of business ethics and how to NOT handle a recall.  Fortunately, as we have seen from the more recent cases of recalls the lessons were learned and recalls are handled much more efficiently and proactively.  As can be seen the number of “uninfluenced” recalls which have nearly tripled since the early 90’s.  This means the current trend in the auto industry is to address issues as they are discovered, and before government mandates to provide as much safety as possible to customers. 2012_Recall_Annual_Report_Final-6

A key example of this shift is when in 2013 Ford’s newly remodeled Escapes were discovered to have a problem that may have caused engine fires.  Ford preemptively corrected the issue and only 13,000 Escapes were produced and recalled, and there were no injuries to people or property.

To see if you’re Ford Vehicle has a recall enter your vin at their recall website to see if any service is required.

See these articles for more information, and sources for the information on the recalls we covered.

VW Diesel Scandal

Toyota Floor Mat Recall

GM Ignition Switch Recall

Ford Cruise Control Deactivation Switch Recall

Firestone Tire Recall

Ford Pinto Recall

Court Street Ford, located at 558 William Latham Drive, is a multi-year president’s award winning dealership. We have been serving the Kankakee, Bradley, Bourbonnais area for 30 years and counting! We are committed to exceptional customer service. Stop by or give us a call at (815) 939-9600, our knowledgeable sales team and service department will be happy to help and are dedicated to providing the best experience!

About the Author:
nateNathan Frank is an internet sales consultant and the man behind Court Street Ford news since January 2015.  He has been in the car industry for several years and has an extensive knowledge of Ford products and history.

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