In 2010, automakers recalled 20.3 million vehicles, the fourth largest number since 1966. That number was up from 16.6 million in 2009, and up from 8.6 million in 2008. To put that into perspective, only 11.5 million new vehicles were sold in 2010.
Safety recalls can include anything from seat belt and airbag failure to defective accelerators. Recalls can cost manufacturers tens of millions of dollars, but more costly is an automaker's tarnished reputation, making consumers think twice before buying.
According to The New York Times, the five companies recalling the most vehicles in 2010 were:
- Toyota: 17 recalls affecting 6.7 million vehicles
- General Motors: 21 recalls affecting 4 million vehicles
- Honda: 15 recalls affecting 2.4 million vehicles
- Nissan: 16 recalls affecting 2.1 million vehicles
- Chrysler Group: 17 recalls affecting 1.6 million vehicles
Of the 20.3 million vehicles recalled in 2010, manufacturers recalled 14.9 million (73 percent) of those vehicles "voluntarily." A "voluntary" recall is one that is not initiated by a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) investigation. In 2009, only 8.5 million (51 percent) of the 16.6 million recalled vehicles were part of a "voluntary" effort.
Reasons for the Increase in "Voluntary" Recalls
While a recall may be deemed "voluntary," the law requires a recall once an automaker is aware of a safety issue. That means that by the time a recall is issued there may have already been multiple safety malfunctions and people may have already been injured.
In addition to the legal requirement, the increase in voluntary recalls can be attributed to a combination of other factors. First, an increasing public awareness of safety issues is demonstrated by the more than 64,000 complaints filed with the NHTSA in 2010. That is nearly twice as many as received in a prior typical year.
Money also plays a role. For example, the government has fined Toyota $48.8 million for mishandling three recalls since 2004. As a result, Toyota has become more proactive toward safety concerns and potential auto defects, quickly evaluating customer complaints and including U.S. offices in safety decisions.
Overall, automakers are acting with an abundance of caution. Instead of waiting for the NHTSA to initiate an investigation and force a recall, automobile companies are trying to maintain an image of being responsible and reliable.
Nevertheless, the reality is that vehicles can be dangerously defective. If you or a loved one has been injured from an automobile safety defect, contact a knowledgeable attorney to discuss your situation and your options.