The Best of the Worst: Automaker Recall Rate Rankings

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky
the best of the worst automaker recall rate rankings

Automakers recalled a record-breaking 51.26 million vehicles last year, with the callbacks stemming from either a highly commendable abundance of caution, or a disgraceful, wide-spread lapse in quality control.

The reality lies somewhere in the middle, but an analysis of over 31 years of recall history has shed some light on which automotive manufacturers have made the best out of a bad situation.

A study published by examined recall data collected by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration from January 1985 to September 2016. That data was contrasted with new vehicle sales by manufacturer and found, wait for it, Volkswagen to have the highest recall rate of any brand. Not surprised?

Keep in mind that the diesel crisis hasn’t technically resulted in VW Group officially recalling anything yet — so the bought-back diesels aren’t a part of this data set. Still, that didn’t stop Volkswagen from receiving a recall rate that was actually higher than the number of cars sold. This can be attributed to same vehicle being recalled multiple times for different reasons. Surprised now?

Volkswagen Group wasn’t alone. Chrysler (now paired with Fiat), Honda, Hyundai, BMW, Volvo, and Ford were all higher than the industry average for the number of recalled vehicles.

Being a lower volume manufacturer producing the same car with only minor updates for most of its history may have given Porsche an edge, as it had the lowest overall recall rate. In a not-too-distant second place was Mercedes-Benz, a company that shares little with Porsche beyond the fatherland and a high attention to detail.

Porsche was quick to respond when it came to dealing with recalls — iSeeCars listed it as one of the brands most likely to issue a recall voluntarily.

General Motors had the best recall timeliness of the major automakers. “Despite the well-known ignition switch recall in 2014, GM’s recalls have historically occurred within the first three years after production,” said iSeeCar CEO Phong Ly.

Tesla, Nissan, Jaguar Land Rover and Volvo were also very good in taking care of business in a prompt manner when the time came. Mazda was not. While this isn’t particularly damning in itself, Mazda’s recall rate has crept upward in the last few years. However, the same could be said of the golden boy, Porsche, as it has begun producing more varied automobiles and started sharing parts with Volkswagen after its 2012 acquisition.

Ideally, a company wants to catch a fault and do their own recall before the NHTSA gets involved. It’s always better to nip something in the bud before consumers start getting publicly angry and news outlets start talking about how your product set someone’s garage on fire.

Ford might disagree with this motto, however, since they were dead last in terms initiating recalls before the NHTSA got around to it. Honda and Chrysler did not do so hot in this respect either. Meanwhile, Tesla managed to beat the NHTSA to the punch every single time, giving it a perfect record. While there is no way that can possibly last, the company can strive to keep as good of a record as Porsche and Jaguar on the matter.

The NHTSA has made it their mission to improve the recall system after criticism of their delayed response in recalling 2.6 million General Motors vehicles for ignition switch defects. Don’t expect recalls to slow down, even if every automotive brand and parts supplier doubles its efforts.

One thing you can be sure of is that Volkswagen’s recall ranking will stay atrocious for at least one more year.


Join the conversation
2 of 18 comments
  • Golden2husky Golden2husky on Nov 06, 2016

    I would not be so quick to pat Porsche on the back. They allowed many a customer to fork over $20K for IMS bearing failures, only to fight tooth and nail against covering the repairs. And even when they finally acquiesced they still put enough obstacles in place to keep the actual number of covered repairs to a minimum.

  • MazdaThreeve MazdaThreeve on Nov 07, 2016

    Wow. Look at Honda. So they're near the worst on recall percentages, and have to be dragged out by the feds at nearly the same rate as Ford does. What was that about KIA and Hyundai being junk again?

  • Jeff S I don't believe gm will die but that it will continue to shrink in product and market share and it will probably be acquired by a foreign manufacturer. I doubt gm lacks funds as it did in 2008 and that they have more than enough cash at hand but gm will not expand as it did in the past and the emphasis is more on profitability and cutting costs to the bone. Making gm a more attractive takeover target and cut costs at the expense of more desirable and reliable products. At the time of Farago's article I was in favor of the Government bailout more to save jobs and suppliers but today I would not be in favor of the bailout. My opinions on gm have changed since 2008 and 2009 and now I really don't care if gm survives or not.
  • Kwik_Shift I was a GM fan boy until it ended in 2013 when I traded in my Avalanche to go over to Nissan.
  • Stuart de Baker I didn't bother to read this article. I'll wait until a definitive headline comes out, and I'll be surprised if Tesla actually produces the Cybertruck. It certainly looks impractical for both snowy and hot sunny weather.
  • Stuart de Baker This is very interesting information. I was in no danger of buying a Tesla. I love my '08 Civic (stick), and it feels just as responsive as when I bought it 11 years ago with 35k on the clock (now 151k), and barring mishaps, I plan to keep it for the next 25 years or so, which would put me into my mid-90s, assuming I live that long. On your information, I will avoid renting Teslas.
  • RHD The only people who would buy this would be those convinced by a website that they are great, and order one sight-unseen. They would have to have be completely out of touch with every form of media for the last year. There might actually be a few of these people, but not very many. They would also have to be completely ignorant of the Hyundai Excel. (Vinfast seems to make the original Excel look like a Camry in comparison.)