The Five Biggest Ford Recalls in Company History

Gold Eagle posed a question asking if Ford is the most unreliable vehicle brand because so far, it has the highest number of recalls in history. Despite the reputation, it continues to have the largest number of vehicle sales. That does not mean that the faults have ceased; in 2019, it recalled 953,000 worldwide to replace the Takata passenger air inflators that could explode and hurl shrapnel. As recently as January 2021, Ford still recalled 3 million vehicles and spent $610 million due to problems with the airbag inflators. Although such numbers are worrying, they are not the highest that the company has ever recalled. Take a look at the five biggest Ford recalls in the company history.

5. 1972 – 4.37 Million Vehicles

In 1972, Ford set a record in the company’s history by recalling 4.37 million vehicles due to safety defects in the shoulder harnesses. At the time, that was the largest recall in the entire Ford history. According to The New York Times, the 1970 and 1971 Ford cars had a metal stud covered by a plastic sleeve that allowed the stud to lock into place. However, it was discovered that the plastic sleeves would break after repeated use, causing the harness not to lock. As always, Ford denied any injuries due to the safety issue stating that no accident had been reported despite receiving 80 reports of such shoulder harness failures. They recalled 4.04 million station wagons and automobiles within the United States, and 330,000 cars recalled were from Canada and overseas. Although the defect affected most of the brands manufactured between 1970 and 1971, it did not affect the Maverick and convertible models. Fortunately, it did not cost the company so much because the faulty sleeve cost few cents to make and was replaced with another made from neoprene.

4. 2009 – 4.5 Million Vehicles

CNN published that Ford had issued the largest single recall in the history of the company by recalling 4.5 million vehicles because of a faulty switch that was a fire hazard. The faulty switch leaked hydraulic fluid, which would overheat, smoke, and burn, resulting in a fire hazard even when the ignition was turned off, or the car was parked and unattended. The switch that cost $21 was made by Texas Instruments and installed in 16 million vehicles. It affected several models, including the Windstar that was the subject of a government investigation. Although Ford stopped using the switch in 2003, by the time the recalls were made, 1500 complaints had been lodged, and 550 vehicle fires were caused. The NTHSA advised owners of the vehicles in question to contact the nearest dealerships soonest possible and avoid parking near homes or in garages until the repairs were made. Ford, however, said that the recall was to address a possible ongoing lack of confidence in the Ford vehicle due to the switch.

3. 2005 – 4.5 Million Vehicles

According to Engineering News-Record, Ford had to recall 4.5 million vehicles because of problems with the cruise control switch that posed a fire hazard. The repair would involve a fused wiring harness to act as a circuit breaker after investigations showed that the fires were due to system interaction and not from a single component. That recall became the fourth largest in the entire U.S. history at the time. Some affected vehicles included Lincolns Navigators, Ford Expeditions, and Ford Broncos; the model years were from 1994 through 2002. Besides replacing the faulty parts, Ford also urged drivers to disconnect the feature. This issue is the one that resulted in the 2009 recall amounting to the same number of vehicles. The company also recalled cars in 2006 and 2007, resulting in over 10 million being recalled due to the same fault leaky switches.

2. 1996 – 7.9 Million Vehicles

Ford Motor Company did not catch a break because, once again, the Ford, Mercury, and Lincoln vehicles had to be recalled in 1996 following a defect in the ignition switch. According to Auto Safety, the company recalled 7.9 million cars from the model years 1988 through 1996. Ford had tried to cover up the fault and even thought of redesigning the ignition switches of the affected models. However, that was not enough because cars kept going ablaze. Ford did not want to be held accountable and misled the NTHSA into believing the fires were caused by something else hence avoiding recalls. However, a 1991 investigation concluded that the fires were majorly caused by electrical erosion. By 1992 NTHSA investigated all Ford vehicles with the same ignition switch thought to be causing the fires. It took three investigations before Ford could finally reach an agreement to recall the vehicles in question. It started with 248,000 cars in Canada, thanks to pressure from Transport Canada. Consequently, the estimated 8 million vehicles followed suit in April 1996 after the media also highlighted the issue.

1. 1981 – 21 Million Vehicles

According to Market Watch, Ford distinguishes itself as having the largest recall in the automotive industry. In 1981, the company had to recall 21 million vehicles because even after the gear was shifted into parking mode, it would not engage. Yet, the vehicle’s indicator showed that it had already been parked. By the time the recall was made, 98 people had lost their lives and 1,701 injured through the 6,000 accidents caused. The vehicles affected were those with the FMX, JATCO, C-3, C-4, and C-6 automatic transmissions. The NHTSA was first called to attention in July 1977, resulting in an investigation into the Ford 1966-1979 vehicles with the FMX or C-6 transmission. In July 1978, the Center for Auto Safety asked for a recall of the vehicle citing 12 deaths and 100 accidents due to transmission slippage. However, NTHSA denied the recall request in October 1978; instead, it issued a Consumer Advisory warning label. The petition for a recall dragged into the 1980s because the labels were not being applied.

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