Nobody likes when things don’t work the way they’re supposed to, especially when it’s the two-ton hunk of car parts sitting in your driveway. The most important party involved in an automotive recall is, of course, you, and anything that could potentially threaten your safety should take priority. It’s fortunate for all involved that the law requires automakers to let you know when a repair, no matter how trivial, needs to be made.
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It’s a bad look for business when automakers’ products are found to be defective, but it’s far worse when people start getting hurt and lawyers — never mind journalists — get involved. We here at Cars.com don’t report on this stuff regularly to harp on any particular brand, but we do want you to be aware of both the problems and available solutions. That’s why we took a look back at the largest-volume recalls of 2019 to see which vehicles were most affected — and which most affected you.
Excluding recalls stemming from previously planned expansions of the massive Takata airbag crisis, here are the 10 biggest recalls we at Cars.com reported in 2019:
GM didn’t even make 2018’s list, but in addition to worker strikes and the related delay of its brand-new Corvette Stingray, the Detroit automaker concluded a difficult year atop our 2019 rundown with this recall for a weakening vacuum pump. Affected vehicles that nearly tripled the count of the runner-up include a five-model-year span of Cadillac Escalade SUVs, Chevrolet Silverado pickup trucks, Suburban and Tahoe SUVs, and GMC Sierra pickups and Yukon SUVs. But as with last year’s No. 1 — also issued in September, incidentally — the solution here is easy for you as an owner: Get your dealer to take care of it (in this case by reprogramming the electronic brake control module).
It may not have been the year’s biggest recall, but it is the biggest recall Subaru has ever seen. Some 1.3 million Subaru Forester SUVs, Impreza sedans and wagons, WRX and STI sedans, and Crosstrek SUVs were recalled in March for an issue apparently stemming from contaminants in common household products such as cosmetics, fabric softener and car polish that could cause a brakelight switch malfunction. Word to owners should have been passed along starting in late April, but if you still haven’t repaired your Subaru, know that dealers only have to replace the brakelight switch as a fix.
After just slipping onto the bottom of our 2018 roundup, Nissan and luxury division Infiniti returned for 2019 with a much more widespread recall for its federally mandated backup cameras. The issue at fault is that the camera and display settings can be adjusted such that the rearview image is no longer visible and the system will retain the setting the next time you put your car in Reverse — y’know, when you’d actually have use for a backup camera. Nissan planned to alert owners in phases starting in late October, but if you think your heads-up got lost in the mail for some reason, take your vehicle to a dealer so they can update the backup camera settings software.
All things considered, Ford had a significantly better time of it reliability-wise in 2019 than it did in hitting the trifecta of 2018’s biggest recalls, as it’s the only one of the Detroit Three to show up on this list once. Still, the Blue-Oval brand’s sole appearance hit seven figures as its popular Explorer SUV was recalled for the potential of a fractured rear suspension toe link. A broken toe link could seriously affect steering and damage your vehicle further, so dealers are to remove and replace left- and right-hand rear suspension toe links, as well as align the rear suspension, before sending you on your way.
Our first recall on this list that fails to crack the million-car mark comes courtesy Toyota, along with its luxury Lexus and erstwhile youth-oriented Scion youth brands. I mentioned in the intro that we’ve excluded from the list recalls related to previously planned expansions of the Takata airbag crisis — but I said nothing about recalls that weren’t previously planned, and that’s just what we have here. Stretching back as far as the 2002 model year, driver or passenger frontal airbag inflators that were thought to be sufficient replacements actually need alternate inflators. The threat of metal fragments striking an occupant in a crash necessitating airbag deployment remains, so if you haven’t already received notice from Toyota to get this sorted out, do yourself a favor and get thee to a dealer to have your airbag assembly replaced.
Fiat Chrysler Automobiles’ first appearance on our list at No. 6 modestly overshadows the automaker’s No. 8 ranking on the 2018 version of this list, but the count is so much larger than that year’s “mere” 240,000 Chrysler Pacificas. Affecting sedans, hatchbacks and SUVs across three of its brands, the third of the Detroit Three dealt here with catalytic converters that could adversely affect vehicle emissions. Not wanting to repeat Volkswagen’s recent diesel emissions scandal, FCA took the initiative to clear the air (as it were) and get the faulty catalytic converter components replaced.
FCA’s other appearance on the 2019 list comes via its Ram pickup brand, which suffered a massive recall in September for a tailgate locking issue that was itself an expansion of another six-figure recall from the spring. (The two together would have finished at No. 5 and 1.1 million affected pickups all told, by the way.) Specifically, the tailgate actuator limiter tab may fracture and cause the tailgate to unlatch, which is something no one wants either at rest or at speed. Dealers will replace your tailgate latch for free if they haven’t already.
German automaker Volkswagen technically was on the 2018 list by way of its Audi luxury division at No. 7, but one of the world’s most popular automakers didn’t need any marques it manufactures to appear this year. In its first appearance on the list, VW sought to repair nearly 680,000 convertibles, coupes, hatchbacks, sedans and wagons in an effort to eliminate the potential for a rollaway. A silicate buildup may ultimately enable the key to be removed from the ignition when the transmission shift lever isn’t in Park. Dealers are tasked with installing an additional switch and circuit board — and as with all other recalls on this list, the work will be done for free.
VW’s second appearance is far less wide-reaching model-wise but nearly as wide-reaching numbers-wise: More than 662,000 Passat sedans and Atlas SUVs were affected in a recall that involves a missing component that ultimately leads to unhelpful headlights. Save yourself the trouble of hitting a deer at dusk and get dealers to inspect and fix your headlights’ horizontal adjustment so they work the way the volks intended.
Recalling some 638,000 vehicles would’ve comfortably landed you a spot in our top five for 2018, but 2019 was especially generous when it came to far-reaching recalls, and this one from GM dovetails with its No. 1 to complete our roundup. It’s intriguing that so many trucks and SUVs are affected considering the very specific requirements of a 5.3-liter engine, a 3.08-ratio rear axle and four-wheel drive, but that also goes to show you how many Silverados, Suburbans, Tahoes, Sierras and Yukons GM sells. In any event, the issue involves an unexpected braking problem that pulls your vehicle to one side. So, who’s gonna get your electronic brake control module fixed for free? You guessed it: your dealer.
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