Was 2016 the Worst Year Ever for Auto Safety Scandals?

January 20, 2017 by

Safety recalls for cars and the scandals around them have been part of the industry, news, and culture for a long time. With the use of social media and the ability to disseminate news to the public instantaneously, it seems that recalls are becoming more frequent—and bigger—every year. In 2014, a new record for passenger vehicle recalls was set: 324. This was an increase of about 45 percent over the number of recalls in 2004. This is consistent with data showing that passenger car sales of new vehicles have also increased, indicating that when manufacturers make and sell more cars, they tend to issue more recalls.

The rising number of recalls over the years can also be attributed to increased self-reporting by car manufacturers, increased population size, media watchdogs, more people needing cars in their day-to-day lives due to a lack of public transit infrastructure, and automakers’ constant engineering and innovation to create better cars.

Auto Recalls: A Brief History

Most auto recalls have a similar backstory—the auto manufacturer knew about a safety defect before a vehicle went into production or to consumers, but they chose not to fix it citing cost and production-to-market timelines. A few examples:

  • In 1971, Chevrolet recalled—after a National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) investigation—6.5 million full-sized vehicles for a faulty engine mount used in its cars starting in 1958.
  • Ford ran into trouble in 1977 after a Mother Jones article reported that the Ford Pinto could catch fire in a rear-end collision, and Ford knew about it all along. It would have cost $12 per vehicle to fix the flaw, but Ford opted not to. More than 900 people died from this defect. Ford recalled about 1.5 million cars and paid millions of dollars in settlements.
  • Toyota paid a $1.2 billion fine to avoid criminal prosecution over unintended acceleration defect in many models of their cars. The automaker was put in the spotlight over a 2009 frantic emergency call released of a woman whose car was accelerating to speeds of up to 125 miles per hour before crashing and killing all four people in the car. At first Toyota tried to blame the defect on driver-error but later admitted to misleading the public and authorities. Worldwide, Toyota and Lexus recalled 9.3 million vehicles.
  • General Motors knew of the ignition switch problem—where certain models would shut off unexpectedly, causing fatal accidents—for nearly a decade before it was brought to light. They quietly replaced the defective part in 2006 but ended up recalling 2.6 million vehicles after 13 deaths were reported from this safety defect. At this time, GM faces $10 billion in civil lawsuits for the safety defect and recall, but the company is currently trying to blame the old GM (the organization that went bankrupt in 2009) for the defect, not the new and improved, restructured GM.

Those are just a few examples of major recalls, but another common theme from recalls is that the automakers are still going strong to this day.

The Auto Industry Bounces Back After Recalls

U.S. automakers are selling a record number of new cars, despite the record number of recalls. Auto manufacturers always seem to bounce back after a major recall, no matter how bad or big the recall was. As technology advances and many auto manufacturers use the same third-party contractors for parts, components, and software, the recalls get really big, really fast if the contractor messes up. But the third-party contractors don’t always bounce back. Take, for example, Takata.

It is estimated that 30 million vehicles worldwide have defective Takata airbags across 10 different automakers, including Honda. It is widely reported that both Honda and Takata knew about the defective airbags in 2004—but didn’t report it to the NHTSA until 2014. Honda seems to be braving the storm, but Takata may not be able to survive it.

This, however, is how it always tends to happen. After a big safety defect scandal, automakers move away from working with the tainted contractor, clean house in the C-Suite, and restructure the organization in a way that seems beneficial to the company, industry, and consumers.

Consumer Safety

It’s probably safe to say that 2016 was actually a relatively tame year for large and scandal-filled recalls. Many automakers are still recovering from past recalls like the ones mentioned above and are working diligently to improve consumer and road safety—as that is what all large automakers tout as their number one priority. Consumer advocates like attorneys and media watchdogs will continue to keep the pressure on the auto industry to ensure proper steps are taken when a safety defect is known or discovered.

When we hear about so many recalls in the news, it can be easy to ignore them or tune them out as something that affects other people and not you. A safety recall can affect anyone. As a consumer, you can’t control what automakers do, but you can take safety recalls seriously. Be sure to take your car into a dealer if you receive notice that your vehicle has a recall.

You can also search for recalls by using your car’s vehicle identification number (VIN).

Hossley & Embry

We know that a car accident can be devastating for anyone. What makes a car wreck worse is when it is exacerbated or even caused by an auto defect. While the automaker may not always have your safety and well-being as their number one priority, rest assured that the experienced auto defect attorneys at Hossley & Embry do. Our attorneys will thoroughly investigate your auto accident, deal with the car manufacturer and insurance companies, and fight for you to receive the justice and compensation you deserve.

Call our offices at (866) 522-9265, or fill out a convenient contact form. We have the resources available (including charter aircraft) to travel throughout Texas and the United States on short notice to investigate your potential claim.


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Sapienza, J. D. (2016 November 19). 11 of history’s most infamous automotive scandals. Autos CheatSheet. Retrieved from http://www.cheatsheet.com/automobiles/11-of-historys-most-infamous-automotive-scandals.html/?a=viewall

Snavely, B. (2016 July 25). Auto industry thrives despite scandals. USA Today. Retrieved from http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/cars/2016/07/25/auto-industry-thrives-despite-scandals/87517968/