What Year and Make of Vehicles have the most Recalls?

Vehicles sold in the US are often recalled by manufacturers for safety issues. According to NHTS, a recall is issued when a manufacturer or NHTSA determines that a vehicle, equipment, car seat, or tire creates an unreasonable safety risk or fails to meet minimum safety standards. Most decisions to conduct a recall and remedy a safety defect are made voluntarily by manufacturers prior to any involvement by NHTSA. However, you may or may not be aware of the information of recalls of your vehicle. NHTSA, an organization under the US DOT, provides an API to access the past recall information. Said API is used to obtain data for the article.

First, all the available model years are accessed, which is then used to access all the vehicle makes. Then the models are accessed from the model year and the vehicle make. Finally, all the recall information can be accessed from year, make and model. There are 59686 combination of model year, make and model that has at least one recall in the past 70 years in the NHTSA database. This only includes the vehicles sold in the United States, thus does not represents the entire world.

The amount of recalls for a specific model year are tallied. The below graph shows the result of the amount of recalls for a specific model year. Note: the year listed is not the year when the recall issued, but rather the model year of a particular vehicle. According to the NHTSA at the time of writing of 2017, “2016 was a record of U. S. Vehicle recalls – more than 53 million in 927 separate recalls”. Many of those recalls are likely to be of models sold years before, contributing to the peak of previous model years.

The data appears strongly skewed left and bimodal, with a low around the year 1981. The amount of recalls for a model year peaked at the year 2007, then decrease as the model year gets more recent. Many factors may contribute to the distribution of the data. The general increasing trend can be explained by the increasing amount of sales of vehicles, as well as the increasing concern of safety and the technology to discern potential problems, thus more and more recalls are being issued every model year. The decrease of the amount of recalls issued in the most recent model years may be explained by that problems have not surfaced in the newer models, or that advance in automotive design has lowered the amount of recalls. The dip in the recalls issued to the vehicles with model year of around 1981 coincides with a peak of oil price of 1979. It is possible that with a decrease of demand of vehicles, less vehicles are being put in production, thus the decrease in the amount of recalls issued.

In any case, more recalls has been issued to the vehicles with the model year of around 2007 than any other.


The total number of recalls for a specific make is also recorded. The total number of recalls issued to all model of all different model years under a specific make is tallied across all the available data. The graph below shows the make and the amount of recalls issued of the top 50 makes.

Unsurprisingly, those most commonly seen in the United States have the highest amount of recalls. The data also includes commercial vehicle manufactures (trucks, buses, agricultural equipment) and makes that are no longer in production. Ford and Chevrolet have significantly higher number of recalls than the other makes, but it is to be expected as they produce more models each model year than the other companies. The probability of getting a recall for each make cannot be calculated from the data, since the data only includes record of vehicles that has been issued a recall, and does not include the models that has not been issued a recall.


Despite the availability of the recall information for vehicles sold in the United States, many notices are gone unrepaired. Detroit Free Press says, “about 30% of recalled vehicles remain unrepaired on America’s roads, according to federal statistics”. An interview with another student who drives a car daily shows a similar way of treating recall issues, “I have gotten an email that told me about a recall, and I know it is about the seat belt, so it is safety related, but I didn’t bother to go and fix it until the next maintenance. It is only a precautionary step taken by the manufacture and it’s not worth my time to go just for one recall”. The amount of recalls issued to a make or a model does not show it’s safety performance, but in any case, the drivers should take the time to make sure their vehicle is safe, especially if the vehicles are of model years of about 10 years ago.

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  1. April 28, 2018 by Nakul.Bajaj

    The most recent increase in vehicle recalls comes up as a quite surprising and interesting trend to me. While new problems may have not taken place after 2009 or so because manufacturers learned from their past, why did they not learn from their previous issues earlier? What do you think is the reasoning behind the decrease thereafter?

  2. April 29, 2018 by Esther Bedoyan

    Wow, I definitely did not expect to see such a clear increase in recalls in 2007. I liked how you did a good job of explaining potential reasons why there was such a huge spike in recalls, because my impression is also that the US has been increasing its safety regulations of vehicles in the past several years. Nice visuals!

  3. April 29, 2018 by Naoya.Okamoto

    Interesting! I didn’t know that there’s so many I unrepaired recalls!

  4. April 29, 2018 by Alison Selman

    Very interesting article! I wonder if the number of recalls per year will continue to decline.

  5. April 29, 2018 by Jason Chen

    Cool! I didn’t realize that until I read this article.

  6. April 29, 2018 by Justin.Chen

    Based on your article, recalls continue to decline, hopefully, they will be almost gone in the next few years!

  7. April 29, 2018 by Ananth J Josyula

    Great presentation Jiamin! However, it would have been great to see what percentage of each make was recalled and consequently analyze if American made cars were more or less vulnerable to recalls.

  8. April 29, 2018 by Melle.Koper

    Well… I drive a 2006 Ford, hope it will fun for a little while longer.

  9. April 30, 2018 by Huy Tran

    Interesting article. I can see that you definitely put effort into the coding of the data analysis.

  10. April 30, 2018 by BBracker

    Hmm, so you say “that those most commonly seen in the United States have the highest amount of recalls,” and I guess that makes perfect sense. What happens though if you calculate the number of recalls per vehicles sold? Which companies stand out when you do that?

  11. April 30, 2018 by Cole.Biafore

    Unless cars go out of style in the future (which they probably won’t) this article is actually really interesting to consider. Since a lot fo people own cars, this can be really helpful when trying to figure out which car to buy. Even if you love adrenaline and love going on adventures, safety is always a big thing to consider. I never realized Ford’s had so many recalls. They are still great cars but this will definitely make me more cautious if I ever consider buying one.

  12. April 30, 2018 by Audrey.Acken

    Very interesting topic. The visuals were very well planned and helped demonstrate your main points—I didn’t know that Ford had that many recalls!

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