The five-year picture on UK car recalls is staggering: almost 6.1 million vehicles have been returned to dealers since the start of 2011, with Toyota, Honda, Vauxhall, BMW and Fiat the worst offenders. The overall total is more than half of the approximately 11.2m new cars sold in the same period.
Comparing recalls to sales is probably unfair, though, as those 6.1m recalled cars have build dates going all the way back to 1997. It demonstrates, however, just how common recalls are – it’s an extraordinarily high number.
So, should all car owners be worried? We’ve gathered the statistics from the Government’s official database, held by the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA), formerly VOSA, to see what the most recalled vehicles are and why.
According to the DVSA code of practice, a car only officially needs to be recalled if one of its features “is likely to affect [its] safe operation… without prior warning to the user and may pose a significant risk to the driver, occupants and others”. High-profile cases like the recent Takata airbag scandal and Toyota’s ‘unintended acceleration’ recall in 2010 both alarmed the public in terms of safety.
Although ‘recall’ is a loaded term, makers say they’re preventable, and it’s misleading to suggest millions of cars are being driven around with potentially lethal faults. Still, the infamous Toyota recall, for example, was clearly a risk – the possibility of a ‘runaway’ car poses imminent danger.
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That issue contributes to Toyota’s number one spot overall in the recall charts, with the company responsible for 1.27m vehicles returning to dealers. This is surprising given the brand’s reputation for build quality and reliability, which also applies to its Lexus premium arm, and its record in our annual Driver Power satisfaction surveys. Owners ranked the Toyota iQ as Britain’s most reliable car in last year’s poll, while five of the top 10 places in the overall Driver Power 2015 table were occupied by a Toyota or Lexus.
It’s a similar story for Honda, which called back nearly one million models and placed second in our recall chart, yet its Jazz ranked fifth for reliability in Driver Power 2015.
Should all of this worry a Toyota or Honda driver, or indeed an owner of any car in the recalls top five, which includes premium brand BMW in fourth place in 2015 and mainstream favourites Nissan in fifth and Vauxhall in third? Well, seemingly not, as a Toyota spokesman told us that a high number of recalls should, in fact, reassure drivers.
“A recall is a preventative measure to fix what may never be a fault,” he explained. “If a brand had no recalls, would it mean that all of its cars were perfect, or just that it’s not checking what may be causing faults?”
Toyota says that an investigation is triggered when just “a single digit number” of cases of a specific fault are presented to its dealer network. This often results in a recall of tens of thousands of cars for precautionary fixes.
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Honda agrees, telling us that “the fact that we, along with the rest of the automotive industry, can track all products and contact owners to ensure any recalls are carried out means that we can deliver on our promise of safety, comfort and happiness”.
The brand has recalled almost one million vehicles over the past five years, yet the DVSA itself backs up Honda’s sentiments, as it stated that manufacturers are approaching recalls proactively, rather than simply waiting for hundreds of cars to present potentially dangerous flaws on the road.
A company spokesman told us: “We have never had to issue a safety recall enforcement letter under the General Product Safety Regulations – all vehicle and component manufacturers have volunteered safety recalls on their own accord.”
The organisation does, however, take credit for its own investigation work in initiating safety recalls. “[Our] intelligence and early warning work has resulted in 66 of 2014’s 256 recalls being notified, registered or launched [and our] safety defect investigation work has resulted in nine safety recalls,” the spokesman added.
Recalls often make headlines, and one of the biggest stories to break in recent years was the Takata airbag scandal. The full extent of this didn’t become clear until the middle of 2015 after a spate of airbag-related deaths in car accidents in the US.
Defective airbag inflator parts, supplied to myriad car manufacturers by Japanese company Takata, were found to shoot potentially lethal shrapnel towards drivers when an airbag inflated. It became apparent that an estimated 25 million cars globally were fitted with the parts, many of them in the UK, including the E46-generation 3 Series, made from 1999-2006.
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BMW recalled 291,000 examples of its compact executive car in 2013, with less than 100 of those going back in for an issue besides the Takata airbag fault. Toyota, Honda, Mazda, Chevrolet and Nissan all recalled thousands of models for the airbag problem.
You’ll notice that Volkswagen Group cars don’t feature highly on the list despite the dieselgate scandal and vast recall that followed. It’s not just due to it being too recent for DVSA figures, but because it’s not classed as a safety recall, so the DVSA isn’t involved. VW labelled it a “voluntary return”.
A manufacturer must notify the DVSA of a recall and proceed accordingly. That includes writing to every registered keeper of the vehicle and notifying them of the defect, spelling out the fix required, the consequences if the problem isn’t remedied and how the owner should proceed.
It will then usually be as simple as contacting your local franchised dealer and arranging a free repair (or replacement parts), which is imperative, because ignoring a safety recall could invalidate your insurance as well as put yourself and other motorists at risk.This is also why it’s vital to notify the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency if you’ve bought or sold a vehicle second-hand.
Although the DVSA records every single recalled car, many of them relate to parts used in multiple models across a range – and in some cases, across multiple brands, like the Takata airbags.
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That’s why it’s difficult to break down Toyota and Honda’s recalls into specific models. The Jazz, for example, is cited in 843,586 recalls, but that figure also includes the Civic, CR-V, S2000 and Accord. There were ‘only’ 307,723 cases where just the Jazz was recalled, including 171,000 for a risk of fire and 136,000 for faulty headlamps.
2011 UK car recalls
|405,690||1||Vauxhall Corsa Mk3 (braking performance)|
|136,329||2||Honda Jazz Mk1 (headlights)|
|90,087||3||Peugeot 207 (pedal obstruction)|
|53,203||4||Volvo C30, S40, V50, C70 (fluid leak)|
|35,752||5||Volvo C30, S40, V50, C70 (clutch failure)|
|35,630||6||Nissan Navara (wheel detachment)|
|33,719||7||Volkswagen T5, Passat, Golf, Tiguan, Eos, Scirocco (fuel leak)|
|26,765||8||Suzuki Swift (steering)|
|26,586||9||Ford Focus, C-MAX (fire risk)|
|24,213||10||Citroen C3 Picasso (passenger braking)|
2012 UK car recalls
|139,010||1||BMW 5 Series, M5, 6 Series, M6 (luggage area fire)|
|138,049||2||Toyota Auris, RAV4, Yaris (electric window fire)|
|77,301||3||Honda CR-V (electric window fire)|
|65,863||4||Toyota Auris, Avensis, RAV4 (rear suspension)|
|62,010||5||Toyota Avensis, Corolla, Prius (steering loss)|
|41,272||6||Honda CR-V (headlights)|
|38,876||7||Chevrolet Aveo, Kalos, Captiva, Epica, Tosca, Lacetti, Nubira Optra, Matiz, Spark (brakes)|
|30,149||8||MINI Cooper S, Clubman, Convertible,Countryman, JCW (engine fire)|
|29,866||9||Nissan Navara, Pathfinder (driver seat)|
|24,873||10||SEAT Ibiza (bonnet closure)|
2013 car recalls
|291,170||1||BMW 3 Series (airbag)|
|171,385||2||Honda Jazz (electric window fire)|
|133,869||3||Nissan Micra (steering wheel)|
|92,920||4||Nissan Almera, Almera Tino, Navara, Terrano II, Patrol, X-Trail (airbag)|
|87,795||5||Hyundai Accent, Tucson, Santa Fe (brake lights)|
|85,331||6||Toyota Corolla, Corolla Verso, Yaris, Avensis, Avensis Verso, Lexus SC 430 (airbag)|
|60,365||7||Honda Jazz, Accord, Accord Wagon, CR-V, Stream, Civic Coupé (airbag)|
|49,104||8||Land Rover Freelander 2, RR Evoque (bonnet fire risk)|
|40,769||9||Kia Soul, Sorento, Sportage, Optima, Carens, Sedona (brake lights)|
|24,187||10||Suzuki Alto (air-con fire)|
2014 UK car recalls
|91,463||1||Fiat 500 (lighting)|
|69,490||2||Vauxhall Adam, Corsa (steering loss)|
|61,337||3||Audi A4 (airbags)|
|43,238||4||Nissan Qashqai (towbar detachment)|
|41,443||5||Ford Fiesta (vehicle fire)|
|34,008||6||Ford Focus, C-MAX (electrical fire)|
|30,788||7||Toyota Prius (loss of power)|
|26,275||8||Toyota RAV4, Hilux (airbag)|
|21,343||9||Subaru Legacy, Outback, Impreza, Forester (brake fluid leak)|
|20,545||10||Renault Clio (braking)|
2015 UK car recalls
|362,411||1||Toyota Yaris, Corolla, Avensis, Verso, Picnic (airbag)|
|242,653||2||Honda Accord, Accord Tourer, Civic, CR-V, Insight, Jazz, Stream (airbag)|
|202,244||3||Toyota Yaris, RAV4, Hilux (airbag rupture)|
|174,677||4||Honda Civic, CR-V, Jazz, Insight (airbag rupture)|
|126,110||5||Toyota Yaris, Corolla, Auris, Camry, RAV4, Highlander, Urban Cruiser (electric window fire)|
|61,682||6||Mercedes M-Class, SLK, C-Class, E-Class, CLS, S-Class, CLA, GLA, A-Class, B-Class (oil leak)|
|49,748||7||Renault Clio (braking)|
|48,155||8||Vauxhall Astra (vehicle fire)|
|35,015||9||Land Rover Range Rover, RR Sport (doors opening)|
|31,320||10||Land Rover Range Rover (braking)|
Owners of expensive, rare or exotic cars can expect their fair share of recalls, too – even supercars like the £780,000 Porsche 918 Spyder, of which four models were recalled in 2014 owing to faulty suspension parts. Here we count down the most prolific recalls by exotic car makers from 2011 to 2015.
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Have you had your car recalled? Let us know what happened in the comments section below...