Dangerous and Defective Vehicles: Recalls Revisited

Unfortunately, vehicles may be featured in the news main stories for all of the wrong reasons. One of these reasons can be to alert the public to a car recall. This involves the manufacturer requesting the urgent return of all vehicles, identified by the specific make, model or other feature. The recalling of cars is as a result of a defect causing a risk to the driver, passengers or other road users. When we are alerted to a large-scale recall it usually follows a horrific incident, such as a crash, vehicle fire, or a devastating fatality. We are advised to check for recalls on our cars at least once a year.

Japanese used car auction lot

We probably become aware of a huge recall of an automobile perhaps every ten years or so. There have been some unforgettable ones in the past and we’ve decided to reflect back on some of them. This should serve as a harsh reminder that we are not invincible and to prompt us to carry out the appropriate safety and recall checks.

5. The 1970’s: Ford Pinto Recall

One-story house with an old used Ford Pinto sitting in front of it, California.

When you mention a car recall, most people automatically are reminded about the Ford failure, involving the Pinto. This recall occurred in the beginning of the 1970’s, around the time of the petrol panic. The lack of gas was caused by issues with the supply chain. Fast to respond were the car manufacturers, desperate to avoid a reduction in sales as a result. Their answer to the fight for fuel was to design and develop cars that required less filling up, one of which was the Ford Pinto. The Pinto incorporated the use of a small engine and a high mileage per gallon engine, which sounds wonderful, however news was spreading that these cars erupted into fire. The media continued to report the story, keeping it public. Ford quickly recalled the Pinto, making the urgent changes. However, many people were simply terrified. Understandably, this resulted in a massive decline in sales of the Ford Pinto.


4. The 1980’s: Audi 5000S Mess

NEUSTADT AM RUBENBERGE, GERMANY - SEPTEMBER 28: The symbol of car manufacture Audi pictured outside an Audi A3 car on September 28, 2015 in Neustadt am Rubenberge, Germany. Car manufacture Audi holding has released a statement this morning, saying 2.1 million Audi cars globally, fittited with their 1.6 TDI engines or their 2.0 TDI engines, are affected by the Volkswagen emission scandal. These engines were mainly built into their A1, A3, A4, A6, as well as Q3 and Q5 models, with 577.000 cars affected in Germany and 13.000 in North America. Former Volkswagen CEO Martin Winterkorn resigned on Wednesday following charges by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that Volkswagen had installed software into its diesel cars sold in the U.S. that manipulates emissions test results. (Photo by Alexander Koerner/Getty Images)

The most memorable car recall of the 80’s is that of the Audi 5000S, despite there being some doubt over whether it was an actual recall. Acceleration issues were assumed by many people as a high number of crashes were blamed on the car apparently going forward without the gas being applied. The manual cars were unaffected. Only the automatics had the problem. Strangely, reports were given by some drivers claiming they weren’t even in the ‘Drive’ mode at the time of their crash. With the allegations causing fear and outrage amongst the public, Audi had no option but to investigate. There was never any evidence of faults within the car. It was eventually concluded that any crashes were purely as a result of the driver, however the widely reported and criticized Audi 5000S never really managed to shake off the bad image.


3. The 1990’s: Ford Ignition Fire


Ford has gotten itself another place on the list, unbelievably for fire related recalls again. The publicity surrounding this Ford fire fault gradually escalated and it was confirmed there was indeed an error with the vehicle’s ignition that caused many to quickly erupt into flames. Families feared for their children’s safety and the sales of Ford were of course reflective of this. Investigation findings were never reported in full and despite allegations of Ford attempting to minimize the claims, they were forced to recall a staggering 8 million of their vehicles. They were also punished by a road safety federation who issued them a hefty fine.


2. The 2000’s: Ford and Firestone

377012 02: FILE PHOTO: A Ford Explorer sits outside a Firestone tire store August 25, 2000 in West Roxbury, MA. Firestone is in the midst of a massive tire recall, mainly those used on sport utility vehicles. Twenty-nine additional deaths have been reported December 6, 2000 in the government's investigation into the safety of Firestone tires. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration gave the latest numbers at 148 deaths that involved tread separations due to Firestone tires, an increase from 119 deaths reported as of October 17. (Photo by Darren McCollester/Newsmakers)

You guessed it, Ford has taken a position on our list of memorable recalls for a third time. Ford actually produces wonderful cars and remains one of the most popular brands amongst drivers, however their recall regarding tires will be long talked about.  It is thought that the large amount of tires, supplied by Firestone, contained some which were faulty. Not to be mistaken for some minor complaint such as a slow puncture, these tires were actually rupturing and disintegrating while drivers were mid-journey at significant speed.

This of course was a major safety concern as reports flooded in about vehicles being found off road, or upside down as a result of the tires failing. People obviously became fearful and the SUV style Ford Explorer at the time took much of the negative press, as was commonly the worst affected in the aftermath of the tire eruption. Reports claim that over 13 million tires were officially recalled, causing Ford and Flintstone huge shame, a negative reputation and extreme financial pressure, only made worse by the large numbers of incidents.


  1. 1. The 2010’s: Ignition Issues Strike Again

WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 01: U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette (D-CO) holds up a GM key switch and a set of keys while questioning General Motors Company CEO Mary Barra testifies during a House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing on Capitol Hill, on April 1, 2014 in Washington, DC. The committee is hearing testimony on a safety defect that's been linked to at least 13 deaths and has sparked a 2.6 million-vehicle recall. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

The discovery of a faulty car in need of recall is sure to grab the news headlines because such a story escalates quickly. Car manufacturers no doubt despise the media for such widespread, negative publicity, but it is important to inform the public about any risks to their safety. It would be shocking if the public were left uninformed as it could potentially be putting people’s lives in danger. No manufacturer should value their financial loss or ruining of their reputation above the life of someone. The publicity should just act as another measure to encourage full safety tests are conducted. The most talked about recall of the current decade involved GM and their faulty ignition. The problem in this case with the ignition was its unpredictability. Worryingly, the ignition would randomly switch itself off with no warning and while the car was in motion. Just imagine travelling at 80mph on the motorway and all of a sudden the ignition turns off. This would be extremely frightening and devastatingly dangerous. There would be a loss in power to the acceleration, brakes and steering, making the prospect of a crash highly likely. Vehicles on the road with the car would also not have any warning, further increasing the risk on collisions. Shockingly, despite the seriousness of their faulty ignition, GM apparently initially ignored the problem, somehow hoping it would just disappear on its own – which of course it didn’t. There was even an attempt to blame drivers key carrying methods, which caused further outrage. Eventually, GM motors took action and recalled the affected cars. Unbelievable!


While on the current decade, it is worth mentioning the recall involving the Takata airbags. Rather than this recall involving a particular brand or model, this airbag problem was much further spread. As Takata was a popular choice as a manufacturer of airbags, many cars were fitted with them. With airbags designed to reduce accidents and improve safety, the faulty airbags were actually doing the opposite. Metal debris would commonly explode from the airbag when it was activated, causing injury and trauma to many who were affected. Again, this was another massive media topic.


Finally, with Ford embarrassingly having dominated this recall list, it has to be mentioned that there was in fact a further fire-related recall involving the manufacturer. In the 1980’s, cruise control systems were sporadically becoming a burning blaze. To make matters worse, there were regular reports of this fault affecting different models in their range of vehicles, dramatically rising recall figures for Ford. On a positive note, the fact that Ford has overcome these set-backs, earning public respect and media admiration, surely deserves recognition.

Categories: Gear Grinding

James Murrell
About James Murrell

I love to read about and research all sorts of vehicles from restored classics to top shelf supercars, monstrous offroaders to weird concept vehicles. I always have a vehicle build happening on one side of my garage for myself and a second bay open for my friends to come and build their dreams too.