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.