The Best of the Worst: Automaker Recall Rate Rankings

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky

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.


Matt Posky
Matt Posky

A staunch consumer advocate tracking industry trends and regulation. Before joining TTAC, Matt spent a decade working for marketing and research firms based in NYC. Clients included several of the world’s largest automakers, global tire brands, and aftermarket part suppliers. Dissatisfied with the corporate world and resentful of having to wear suits everyday, he pivoted to writing about cars. Since then, that man has become an ardent supporter of the right-to-repair movement, been interviewed on the auto industry by national radio broadcasts, driven more rental cars than anyone ever should, participated in amateur rallying events, and received the requisite minimum training as sanctioned by the SCCA. Handy with a wrench, Matt grew up surrounded by Detroit auto workers and managed to get a pizza delivery job before he was legally eligible. He later found himself driving box trucks through Manhattan, guaranteeing future sympathy for actual truckers. He continues to conduct research pertaining to the automotive sector as an independent contractor and has since moved back to his native Michigan, closer to where the cars are born. A contrarian, Matt claims to prefer understeer — stating that front and all-wheel drive vehicles cater best to his driving style.

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  • 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?

  • Jonathan IMO the hatchback sedans like the Audi A5 Sportback, the Kia Stinger, and the already gone Buick Sportback are the answer to SUVs. The A5 and the AWD version of the Stinger being the better overall option IMO. I drive the A5, and love the depth and size of the trunk space as well as the low lift over. I've yet to find anything I need to carry that I can't, although I admit I don't carry things like drywall, building materials, etc. However, add in the fun to drive handling characteristics, there's almost no SUV that compares.
  • C-b65792653 I'm starting to wonder about Elon....again!!I see a parallel with Henry Ford who was the wealthiest industrialist at one time. Henry went off on a tangent with the peace ship for WWI, Ford TriMotor, invasive social engineering, etc. Once the economy went bad, the focus fell back to cars. Elon became one of the wealthiest industrialist in the 21st century. Then he went off with the space venture, boring holes in the ground venture, "X" (formerly Twitter), etc, etc, etc. Once Tesla hit a plateau and he realized his EVs were a commodity, he too is focused on his primary money making machine. Yet, I feel Elon is over reacting. Down sizing is the nature of the beast in the auto industry; you can't get around that. But hacking the Super Charger division is like cutting off your own leg. IIRC, GM and Ford were scheduled to sign on to the exclusive Tesla charging format. That would have doubled or tripled his charging opportunity. I wonder what those at the Renaissance Center and the Glass House are thinking now. As alluded to, there's blood in the water and other charging companies will fill the void. I believe other nations have standardized EV charging (EU & China). Elon had the chance to have his charging system as the default in North America. Now, he's dropped the ball. He's lost considerable influence on what the standardized format will eventually be. Tremendous opportunity lost. 🚗🚗🚗
  • Tassos I never used winter tires, and the last two decades I am driving almost only rear wheel drive cars, half of them in MI. I always bought all season tires for them, but the diff between touring and non touring flavors never came up. Does it make even the smallest bit of difference? (I will not read the lengthy article because I believe it does not).
  • Lou_BC ???
  • Lou_BC Mustang sedan? 4 doors? A quarterhorse?Ford nomenclature will become:F Series - Pickups Raptor - performance division Bronco - 4x4 SUV/CUVExplorer - police fleetsMustang- cars