Sticker Shock: The Biggest “Recall” Ever

A lot of car recalls are in the news lately, from the Chevy Bolt EV battery replacement recall to the Hyundai and Kia engine replacement news. Ford recently announced recalls of F-150 trucks, both gas-powered and on the electric Ford Lightning. But, 40 years ago there was a whopper that still hasn’t been topped. In 1981 Ford nearly recalled 21 million cars after they killed 98 people and injured more than 1,700.

What happened to those 21 million cars?

A 1972 Ford Mustang Mach 1. Several Ford Mustangs from this year had the faulty FMX transmission.
Some 1972 Ford Mustangs were affected by the FMX transmission | Bring a Trailer

The issue was that the parking gear would fail to engage, and the car would slip onto reverse and take off. The issue affected 1966 to 1980 Ford, Lincoln and Mercury, cars, trucks and vans, with a C-6 or FMX automatic transmission. The fix wasn’t to actually fix the transmission. Instead, Ford eventually agreed to give owners a simple dash sticker that reminded them to set the parking brake. According to a 1981 story in the Washington Post, the sticker read:

Important Safety Precaution

Before leaving the driver’s seat, you should always:

1) Make sure the gear selector lever is engaged in Park

2) Set the parking brake fully

3) Shut off the ignition

The stickers saved Ford from having to fix the cars, and hopefully saved some lives. The sticker plan also probably saved Ford from financial ruin at the time. See the sticker at AutoWeek.

Other companies have had massive recalls, too

a red 1980 Monte Carlo
1980 Chevrolet Monte Carlo | Bring a Trailer

In 1981 General Motors had an issue with control arms on cars that would break, causing the driver to lose control. GM recalled and fixed 6 million cars. Toyota had a major recall in 2009 for what at the time were defective floor mats that trapped the gas pedal. Eventually, it had to recall 9 million cars and it installed brake software update on cars, according to The Guardian. The faulty Takata airbag recall caused 42 million cars from a variety of manufacturers to go back to the dealer for replacements

In 2018 Fiat Chrysler recalled 4.8 million vehicles

In 2018 Fiat Chrysler, as the company was called then, faced one of the largest recent recalls for defective cruise control cancel switches. It affected 4.8 million Jeep, Ram, Chrysler and Dodge vehicles made between 2014 and 2018. Basically, if you hit the cruise control, you couldn’t turn it off. The company fixed the issue with new software after warning people to stop using the cruise control.

VW’s “Dieselgate” affected 590,000 cars in the U.S.

Many of us remember the Volkswagen “Dieselgate” scandal of 15 years ago. It wasn’t as large a recall as any of those, but it did put a black eye on VW for years and cost the company billions. Essentially, VW built cheater computers that recognized when a car was being tested, and they dialed back the emissions. But, when you drove the car regularly, it polluted a lot. According to the EPA the issue affected 590,000 2009 to 2016 diesel cars.

Volkswagen agreed to pay a $2.5 billion criminal penalty, as well as $1.5 billion in fines for customs fraud. Overall, it had paid more than $35 billion in fines and to buy back cars. It agreed to buy back thousands of diesel vehicles and fixed an additional 63,000. The scandal is one of the reasons VW is now trying to be a leader with EVs.

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