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Analyzing Car Recall Trends in America

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Malfunctioning air bags. A faulty fuel system. Defective lighting. Various issues can prompt recalls in the world of automotive, but not every single one makes headlines. For the most part, many of us are in the dark about which vehicle brands, models, and components are recalled most frequently.
To get a better understanding of auto recalls, we analyzed data from the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) database for recalls of 20 top car brands. To support our first analysis, we also used CarQuery’s API to determine how many types of models were produced per year for each brand. Which cars are recalled most often according to this data? Which vehicle components are often involved? And how do these recalls correspond with sales numbers?

Analyzing Recalls by Car Brand

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Breaking down the recall list by brand reveals an interesting snapshot of affected automakers. Most of the car brands seem to follow the same pattern: the more models created, the higher the number of recalls. However, based on the Car Query API data reviewed, Dodge has half as many models as Ford or Chevrolet, but almost as many recalls. On the other side of the spectrum, Toyota has had nearly as many models as Ford and Chevrolet since 1995, but over 600 fewer recalls, according to the NHTSA data.

Which Car Model Has Had the Most Recalls?

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Next, we examined recalls based on specific models. When it comes to the dubious distinction of having the most associated recalls in the data set, one model is in the lead: the Dodge Ram (responsible for almost 5% of total recalls in the data). The Chevrolet Silverado, Honda Civic, Chrysler Sebring, and BMW 3 Series follow with 2% to 3% apiece.
Fueling the Ram’s top-spot status was Fiat Chrysler’s 2015 recall of almost 1.7 million recent-model Dodge Ram pickups to check or repair potentially faulty air bags, steering components, and wiring harnesses. The company also reportedly agreed to pay penalties due to its record of vehicle repairs during 23 past recalls.

Looking at the Most Defective Vehicle Components

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Automakers recall vehicles due to any number of reasons. But which components prompt the most recalls? According to the NHTSA data, faulty lighting is the most common reason for a recall, sparking more than 21% of recalls – more than twice as many as any other component. From failing headlights to flawed brake lights, malfunctioning lights can greatly increase danger on the road.
Three components vie for second place after lighting issues: Malfunctioning air bags prompt 10.0% or recalls, faulty fuel systems comprise 8.9%, and electrical issues spark 8.2%, according to the data set. In December 2015, Ford recalled vehicles due to potentially leaky fuel systems, and air bags have continually made headlines over the years due to issues with air bags supplied by Japanese company, Takata. Currently, these air bag recalls affect more than 19 million cars and trucks.

What Is the Most Recalled Model for Each Car Brand?

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For many of us, considering an automaker’s specific models brings to mind a favorite – perhaps the flashiest or the most reliable. But every brand has another standout: the model most frequently recalled from among the cars they sell or have sold (according to the data). The most startling stat? 53.1% of Chrysler’s recalls in the data set are due to the Sebring, and nearly 38% of Honda’s recalls were due to the Civic.
Other models that made up the lion’s share of a car brand’s recalls include the Ram (43.5% of Dodge’s recalls), the 3 Series (37.0% of BMW’s recalls), and the Escalade (33.8% of Cadillac’s recalls).

Do Recalls Affect Annual Sales?

In the flipbook above, you can see how each manufacturer’s number of recalls corresponds with its annual sales. Some charts display clear correlations: For instance, Toyota’s sales steadily rose as its recall frequency declined. Other manufacturers’ stats appear to show little correlation.
Although it stands to reason that recalls would affect sales, many experts say that’s not the case. Some believe that the high frequency of recalls overall has rendered car shoppers numb to them. Others say that consumers don’t necessarily consider recalls a reflection of a vehicle’s quality, but rather as a specific issue. These attitudes add up to good news for automakers who want to still count on sales regardless of recall numbers.

Which Type of Recall Is Most Likely for Each Brand?

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Categorizing the most common car defects for each brand reveals some interesting results. Lighting was the most frequent issue for 11 automakers, while faulty fuel systems and electrical flaws were most common for three brands apiece. Brake, air bag, and labeling recalls topped the list for just one brand each: Subaru, BMW, and Toyota respectively, according to the data set.

Looking Closely at Each Brand’s Recalls

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Finally, we looked at a breakdown of each brand’s component recalls. Lighting was the most common type of recalls nearly across the board. 27.7% of Ford’s recalls were for lighting, which is more than any other component, according to the data. In December 2015, the manufacturer recalled over 313,000 cars due to headlight failures.
Many brands had a high amount of air bag recalls. Incidents such as a 2015 recall of some Toyota models due to problems with side curtain air bags and the infamous Takata air bag recall affected many of the car brands.


Automobile recalls are a serious matter that affects virtually every driver on the road. The NHTSA, in its new public awareness campaign, “Safe Cars Save Lives,” urges consumers to check for open recalls at least twice a year and states that checking for a recall could help save a life. If there is a safety recall, the NHTSA advises owners to have their vehicles repaired as soon as parts are available. By taking these steps, this helps make the roads safer for everyone.


We chose 20 top car and truck brands and scraped the NHTSA database for recalls of defects since 1995. We then eliminated any recalls for commercial vehicles (semi-trucks, buses, transport vans, etc.) and motorcycles to get our final estimate of recalls. We then segmented the data by automotive brands, models, and components to determine which categories had the most recalls. For the sales figures, we used the corporations’ yearly U.S. sales by volume stats from GoodCarBadCar. We estimated the number of models for each brand since 1995 using CarQuery API.


This analysis should not be interpreted as an indication of what thinks of any particular manufacturer, brand, or model or as an effort to disparage or endorse any particular manufacturer, brand, or model. The specific calculations used in our analysis were based on data compiled by, or reported to, the NHTSA, a U.S. Governmental Agency, CarQuery API and Such third party published data has not been independently verified by

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