When Henry Ford envisaged a Ford standing outside every American’s home because of them being the most affordable cars – little did he realize what the future would bring. For instance, he could not have known that sometimes these very Fords rolled away when parked, or that some would catch fire even with ignitions switched off.
He did not know that Ford would top the list of the most recalled cars (by number) ever and also be number second on it. And that while Ford would remain to be America’s darling, its company policies about recalls were once more aligned to profit than to safety. Here go the ten biggest recalls made by Ford, ranked by numbers.
10 2014: 1.1 Million SUV Recalls
Let's begin with the smallest number we have on the list. And at about 1.1 million vehicles recalled, it is not a particularly small number, is it? But many 2008-2011 Ford Escape and Mercury Mariners, as well as 2011-2013 Ford Explorers had to be recalled in 2014 due to a defect that affected the power steering while driving.
Technically, you’d be driving and suddenly, your beloved Ford vehicle would lose power steering, leaving you with clunky steering you did not know what to do with. For the Escape and the Mariner it was the torque sensor to blame while for the Explorer, it was intermittent electricals.
9 2019: Another 1.2 Million SUVs
Despite the 2014 Explorer recall, Ford's problem with steering in their SUVs continued. In 2019, Ford had to recall a further of 1.2 million 2011-2017 models of Ford Explorers. The reason was a defect that Ford discovered could cause a fractured rear suspension, which in turn could lead to loss of steering and increase the risk of a crash.
Another 123,000 Ford F-series pickups were also included in this recall but these had an issue with an idiopathic transmission downshift that could also lead to a crash. This recall was to cause the company $180 million in losses, and Ford did say that it did not know of any crashes or losses related to this issue.
8 1978: 1.5 Million Ford Pintos Recalled
The infamous kaboom car may not have caused Ford much in damages, but it did damage its reputation forever. Ford fought against the recall order, going to court over what it called a perfectly safe car in its class.
When the NHTSA did not budge, Ford had to issue a recall for 1.5 million Ford Pinto and Runabouts made in 1971-1976 as well as 1975-1976 Mercury Bobcats. Each car was to receive a new fuel tank neck that went deeper into the tank and was more crash or break-resistant. And yet in 1979, some reports said only half of these cars reached dealers to get the problems fixed.
7 2018: 2 Million F-150 Trucks Recalled
Apparently, in some cars, when the pre-tensioners deployed, they did so with excessive force and sparks – causing instances of smoke and fire. The issue came to focus when there were 17 reports from the US and six from Canada generated about the same issue. Of course, Ford did say that it did not know of any injuries caused by the same. Despite the F-series being a bestseller in the US since the 70s, flaws keep popping up.
6 2013-Present: 3 Million Takata Airbag Recalls
This is the only time we could probably let Ford off the hook because all it did was install airbags from Takata. It was Takata and its Mexican chemical handler who made faulty airbags that exploded on deployment and ended up causing carnage to the very people they were designed to protect.
The Takata airbag recall tops even Volkswagen’s Emissionsgate and involves the ultimate recall of over 53 million vehicles fitted with a 100 million Takata airbags. For Ford, the count has risen to nearly three million if not more, and soon more vehicles may be added to this growing list.
5 1972: 4 Million Recalls Over Seatbelt Faults
Despite launching and sticking to their guns about the rather explosive temperament of the Ford Pinto, Ford as a company did not want to cause the buyers of its cars any harm. If you bite the hand that feeds you, well, sales do go down. By 1972, the effects of the oil embargo were beginning to be seen and felt, and carmakers knew this was going to be a tricky time for them.
Perhaps this is why Ford decided to recall some 4 million of its vehicles in 1972, over a faulty seatbelt issue. The issue was simple: the buckle did not inspire confidence and there were times the belt simply decided to detach itself from its encumbrance, leading to higher danger if involved in a crash, or jolt.
4 2005: 4.5 Million Fire-Catching Cars
There’s a proverb that says a burnt child dreads the fire. But it fits better on the Ford. After the debacle that was the Ford Pinto (and never mind those 3 million cars sold, or for the people whose Pinto never died); Ford was rather wary of anything that connected the dots between any of their vehicles and fire.
So when reports began to trickle in about Ford vehicles catching fire while parked, and with the keys out of the ignition – like spontaneous combustion – investigative agencies got to work. A $20 cruise control switch was found to be the villain, causing a recall of 1994-2002 models of the F-150, Expedition, Broncos and Lincoln Navigators.
3 2009: Another 4.5 Million Fire-Prone Cars
The same darned switch, the same problem and even the same number of cars recalled – only this time it happened in 2009, and a different batch of cars was involved. A simple faulty switch ultimately triggered the recall of over 9 million Ford vehicles. For the 2019 batch, it was the 1993-1997 and 1999-2003 F-Super Duty Diesel, 1992-2003 Econolines, 1995-2002 Explorers and Mercury Mountaineers.
The most at risk were the 1995-2003 Windstars, then came the 1995-1997 and 2001-2003 Rangers as well as 1994 motorhomes. Was it Ford’s fault or was Texas Instruments considered the one responsible for this damage? Either way, two 4.5million recalls in the same decade is a bit much.
2 1996: 7.9 Million Car Recalls
Can you believe how long a problem can last? In the case of Ford vs. a faulty cruise control switch, we guess it's forever. The same cruise control switch that caused some 9 million vehicles to be recalled between 2005 and 2009, was also quite the devil in the 90s. In 1996, Ford issued a massive recall for 7.9 million of its vehicles for the very same issue it also issued a sixth recall in 2009 – and the total number of cars to be affected by this came to be a neat 14.5 million.
Despite the 1996 recall, the same switch continued to be put into Ford vehicles, prompting further recalls. Is this a case of blind loyalty (to Texas Instruments) or simply a means of cost-cutting?
1 1980: 21 Million Vehicles, But An Easy Fix
While this has to be the largest recall in the history of automobile recalls, Ford also found the niftiest solution to it. A design defect in the automatic transmission of nearly 23 million Ford cars so made from 1966 to 1980 could cause some vehicles to slip from park into reverse. We don’t need to create the worst-case scenario for this because, after 6,000 accidents and 100 deaths associated with this issue, Ford finally issued a recall.
Did it fix the problem? Nope, because that would have cost actual money. So what Ford did was the next best thing – slapped a warning sticker on the dashboard and laughed in the faces of the NHTSA.