By on November 4, 2016

autos technology vw public domain

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.


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18 Comments on “The Best of the Worst: Automaker Recall Rate Rankings...”

  • avatar

    While the historical rates are definitely interesting to see a lot has changed since 1985 so I’d like to see the statistics for the last year and maybe the last 5 years. Tesla didn’t exist in 1985 and Chrysler is on to its 4th owner/management in the same time frame.

  • avatar

    Garbage numbers. They don’t show the severity of the recall, and numbers covering from 1985 to 2016 are useless as a guide for anyone who is in the market for a new or slightly used car.

    • 0 avatar

      Garbage opinion. (See, I can overgeneralize too.) So let’s see here, you want these numbers to reflect “severity.” Like, assign a score of 80 to a car that could spontaneously catch fire. Or assign a 90 to a car that could lose all power, because you could potentially kill others on the road. Or a 60 to a car whose seat belts might fail, because hey, at least when you’ll only kill yourself or your passengers? See, ranking severity would be based totally on opinion. No one would agree on which recalls are more severe than others, because they can often have very unpredictable consequences.

      Also, if you can’t see the value in knowing when a manufacturer initiates a recall versus them being *forced to* after an investigation, I don’t know what to say.

    • 0 avatar

      I agree – garbage. For instance, how many are the result of airbag recalls?

      The implication is that more recalls = lower quality. Take out airbag recalls and other defects not attributable to the manufacturer and let’s see the numbers.

    • 0 avatar

      I don’t see how the airbags constitute a garbage recall, but one of my cars was recalled after ten years for possible plug wire corrosion and another was recalled for premature rear tire wear after seven years. The plug wires were still perfect, so I never responded to the recall. Ten years is pretty much after anything that doesn’t kill you with fire merits a recall anyway. If Ford cars were held to that standard, they wouldn’t have a business model. As for the rear tire wear issue, seven years at 14,000 miles is 98,000 miles. The only way to be eligible for the recall was to still have the old tires in your possession to prove they wore out early. How many of the hundreds of thousands of cars counted in the recall qualified for remuneration? A dozen? A hundred? My tires lasted about as long as most tires on my primary cars tend to last.

    • 0 avatar

      VW recalling each car twice? Garbage?

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    “Being a lower volume manufacturer producing the same car with only minor updates for most of its history may have given Porsche an edge…”

    This seems to have helped Kia, also.

    • 0 avatar

      Even high volume manufacturers benefit from this approach. Moany of Toyota’s vehicles have changed very little outside of minor styling changes. The Camry has been slowly changed over the years but is essentially the same car. The XVxx platform only receives minor changes.

  • avatar

    Another prove that Honda = shit

  • avatar

    In a way I suppose this tells you something about how well a car maker develops a car before releasing to the public. For instance my wife’s MINI was recalled because BMW used a screw in the fuel cap that could rust. You could argue BMWs designers should have thought of that as they probably have one person dedicated to designing fuel filler parts.

    So it’s interesting where a car maker like Toyota finishes versus a car maker like JLR for example and yet when you look at issues reported by consumers Toyota does much better. What these types of stats don’t report is number of issues against car complexity. So a Range Rover is one of the most complex cars imaginable so for JLR to do so well in this report suggests to me that when something goes wrong it’s less likely to be about bad design or even build quality and more to do with the sheer number of extra components they have to fit to their cars. Which is probably why the score really highly in customer satisfaction survey. If a car breaks down it’s annoying. If one of your 10 cameras stops showing a picture it’s a bit of a hassle but can normally be fixed at your own convience.

    So in summary this tells me Porsche and Mercedes make fantastic cars. But Honda, Ford and Chrysler have serious design issues to address.

  • avatar

    While these numbers reflect recalls that the manufacturer couldn’t avoid due to to safety issues that the NHTSA either did or would have gotten involved, it leaves out a whole lot of other problems.

    European makes in particular are very reluctant to issue recalls on reliability problems that are not safety related. Just ask anyone with a Porsche that has an IMS bearing.

  • avatar

    These statistics indicate that there is validity in having a regulatory body providing industrial oversight.

  • avatar

    Btw, always thought that the Autostadt cylindrical parking would make for a great space-saving core of a round building, in which the occupants can access their vehicle on the floor they’re at.

    • 0 avatar

      I effing hate modern vendos; punch the wrong letter-number and there’s no stopping it: “Oh, crap, I got a VW!”

      Bring back pull-knobs. And 15-cent Baby Ruths.

  • avatar

    Wow. I knew Ford was bad but not that bad. I guess thats one way to save money though. Why issue a recall when the NHTSA MAY force you to issue one?

  • avatar

    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.

  • avatar

    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?

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