Why are there so many car recalls? Experts weigh in

"You're going to see this more and more," one expert said.

February 9, 2024, 6:11 AM

Honda and Acura recalled a combined 750,000 cars this week over an airbag defect, becoming the latest in a series of recalls this year that has touched carmakers from Tesla to Ford.

The near-daily headlines warning of a recall amount to more than an eye-catching coincidence.

Car recalls have surged in recent years, owing largely to the increased complexity of vehicles replete with electronic components that increase the likelihood of a malfunction, according to an ABC News analysis of government data and interviews with experts.

The average number of car recalls each year jumped 46% over a 10-year period ending in 2022, when compared with the average over the preceding 10 years, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data shows.

Over the five years ending in 2022, the U.S. averaged more than 1,000 car recalls each year, or about 27 per day, the data shows. Until 2016, the U.S. had not exceeded 1,000 car recalls in any year going back to at least 2002.

"More complicated vehicles definitely result in more issues," Ivan Drury, an auto analyst at data firm Edmunds, told ABC News.

"Vehicles have advanced to a degree we've never seen before," Drury added, citing high-tech features such as self-driving capability and back-up cameras. "It's such a wide swathe of issues that recalls cover that you're going to see this more and more."

In December, for instance, Toyota recalled 1.12 million vehicles worldwide because a sensor malfunction could cause the airbag to deploy incorrectly.

The same month, Tesla recalled about 2 million cars over a safety issue tied to its autopilot system. The company announced an additional recall last week of 2.2 million vehicles over the font size on its warning lights.

A Honda Civic car is displayed on the sales lot at Honda Marin on Feb. 6, 2024, in San Rafael, California.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

"Let's just think about 20 years ago, we were just getting into airbags becoming standard," Brian Moody, executive editor at Autotrader, told ABC News. "A lot of these complex pieces of equipment and technology today have to work together to get a better experience for the consumer."

Tom McParland, operator of the vehicle-buying service Automatch Consulting, echoed the view.

"As you add more components to vehicles, as vehicles get more tech heavy, you're going to have more failure points," McParland said.

The spike in car recalls should not necessarily worry consumers, since defects range widely in severity. The uptick in recall announcements, they added, illustrates a regulatory system essentially working as intended.

"A lot of these recalls don't fall under a stop-sale order or tell you to stop driving your car," Drury said. "The stuff that's more minor might not catch your attention but you do want to get it fixed."

Repairs undertaken in response to a recall are free of charge to the car owner, the experts said. When purchasing a used car, prospective buyers can check online whether the car received repairs in response to a possible recall.

Due to the complexity and speed of auto production nowadays, recalls offer a necessary opportunity for fixes to problems that go undiscovered before a car hits the road, Moody said.

"In the end, it's good for consumers that we have a recall system," he added.

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