The majority of Brits rely on cars on a daily basis, but a surprising number of vehicles are recalled by manufacturers each year over safety concerns.
New data from the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA), exclusively sourced by NerdWallet, reveals that Mercedes-Benz (504,047) is the most recalled car of 2019.
Our data insights also show that overall vehicle recalls steadily increased during the four year period between 2014 and 2018.. For example, in 2018, there was a staggering increase of 62% on the previous year. Whilst 2019 shows a 68% decrease on last year’s peak, it is still higher than any previous years studied in our analysis.
The most recalled vehicle makes between 2014-19
With the vast majority of vehicles in the UK being cars, it follows that UK vehicle recalls are dominated by cars – in fact 94% of the recalls in the DVSA data were cars.
Car recalls by brand in the UK between 2014-19
Vigilant consumers will benefit from researching the safety record of manufacturers when looking to buy a vehicle, whether brand new or second-hand.
Brands with consistently poor performance ratings may not be the best choice for consumers who are more mindful of safety. So, consumers should take safety records into account before making a purchase.
As well as considering the manufacturer’s performance across the five-year period between 2014-19, consumers should analyse a brand’s recall figures before inking any contracts; is it improving or declining?
Let’s take a look at the top ten most recalled car brands between 2014-19:
The most recalled brand of car in 2019 was Mercedes-Benz, with 504,047 recalls in total. The brand featured consistently in the top-10 between 2017-19, and its recall numbers in 2018 were higher than this year, although Mercedes only had the third highest number of recalls in 2018: 476,788.
Surprisingly the number of recalls in 2019 is five times higher than that in 2014, when a relatively modest 725,398 cars were recalled. Since then, this has jumped remarkably to 2,435,701 recalls in 2019.
This is possibly due to an increase in caution from manufacturers or tighter recall regulations and rules.
Of course, when cars are recalled by the manufacturer, this is an extremely serious issue, as car recalls are only issued when a vehicle poses a serious risk to the safety of road users.
Does my car have a recall record?
You can discover if your car has been recalled before, with gov.uk's car recall check facility. All you need to do is enter your vehicle registration number.
RAC has an extensive resource on what to do if your car is recalled.
How can I tell when my car was manufactured?
To determine if your car might have been recalled, it can be useful to know which year it was manufactured.
This can be discovered through a Vehicle Identification Number (VIN). A VIN is a unique string of letters and numbers assigned to your vehicle - usually in the form of 17 digits.
A VIN is usually marked on your car’s dashboard, at the base of the windscreen by the driver’s side, a sticker on the driver’s door, or at the front of the engine.
Your VIN should also be clearly marked on your insurance and registration documents.
Fewer Brits were affected by the most recalled brand this year than in previous years. The highest number of brand recalls in one year was BMW in 2018 (918,000 in total). This number was 35% higher than the second highest year for recalls, which was occupied by Vauxhall in 2017 (599,000 in total).
The most recalled car makes varied from year to year, during this five-year period.
During these five years, the highest total number of recalls for all models combined was in 2018, when 3,820,539 were recalled.
There was a hugely marked increase in the total number of vehicles recalled from 2015 onwards. In 2015, the most recalled brand was Honda, with 448,911 recalls, a surprising 373% increase on the most recalled brand of 2014.
Is this due to increasingly stringent security protocols, or more unscrupulous car manufacturers building forced obsolescence into their vehicles?
"The manufacturer of the car is a big factor; consumers should do their research before committing to a make. There are plenty of websites with figures on car manufacturers breakdowns and repairs. A luxury car manufacturer isn’t necessarily the most reliable. It’s also important to consider what type of road or terrain the car will be driven on, as some cars are more reliable in different environments."Neil Hutchinson,ChairmanMercury Cars
Volkswagen defeat devices
There have been some big stories about car recalls in the last few years, none more notable and newsworthy than the Volkswagen defeat devices emissions scandal.
Also dubbed the ‘diesel dupe’, US emissions tests revealed that Volkswagen had added devices into their diesel cars, which showed that their models were within legal emission regulation limits, when in use.
However, when driven on normal road conditions the car’s emissions were far in excess of allowable limits. In fact, during real world driving Volkswagen cars emitted up to 40 times more nitrous oxide than the legal limit.
Class action suits, court cases and substantial fines
The shockwaves of the scandal reached far and wide, being felt across the US, Europe and as far away as Australia. The effects were first felt in the US, where the subterfuge was initially uncovered.
As many as 475,000 US Volkswagen owners were given the opportunity to choose a buyback on their vehicles or to have their car fixed free of charge and receive compensation.
US consumers also brought class action lawsuits against the company. As of October 2015, the number of class action lawsuits filed in the US court system had reached 230.
ABC News Australia stated that 90,000 class action lawsuits were filed in Australia by VW, Audi and Skoda diesel car customers in 2015.
By 2019, Volkswagen settled on a pay-out of A$87 million (£45million).
In the UK, the waters are slightly muddier. A class action lawsuit has been dragged through the courts since 2015 and proceedings are expected to reach a conclusion in 2020. The 85,000 motorists involved in this UK lawsuit will hope to win compensation of around £2,000 per vehicle, in the event that lead law firm Slater and Gordon’s predictions come to pass in the ruling.
Did you know?
Volkswagen paid out $14.7 billion in a US court settlement to diesel car owners.
The scandal in context
The news of Volkswagen’s illegal activity broke in 2015 and may have had a knock-on impact on the rest of the industry, especially consumer confidence in diesel vehicles, although it is by no means the biggest car recall, coming fifth on the list of widest reaching recalls in history.
Top 10 automotive recalls in history
The largest ever recall in automotive history wasn’t associated with one particular car manufacturer. Instead, the company associated with this safety nightmare was an automotive parts company.
It took place in 2013, after airbags manufactured by the Japanese Takata Corporation led to fatalities in the US. After an initial recall of 3.6 million airbags, further safety concern caused a worldwide recall of 42 million airbags in total, leading to the bankruptcy of Takata.
"Some car brands certainly have their own specific maintenance issues. It’s not uncommon, for example, for BMWs to have a leaking oil filter gasket or even trouble operating the electric windows. We’ve often found Range Rover’s air suspension begins to fail after about six to ten years of driving. There is a correlation between some car manufacturers and specific repair issues."Neil Hutchinson,ChairmanMercury Cars
Intriguingly, our data marking the fact that BMW and Mercedes-Benz experienced a high volume of recalls between 2014-19 matches with a study into vehicle reliability by JD Power.
The JD Power Dependability Study profiled car brand safety and reliability, finding luxury cars manufacturer BMW the least dependable car maker for the second year in a row in 2019. Mercedes also came out of the survey with a less than glowing report into the reliability of their vehicles, although they are ranked the highest of all luxury car makers, in 14th place.
The most reliable makes tend to be economy brands rather than luxury ones. In 2019, manufacturers from the Far East were rated the most reliable, with Hyundai taking first place, followed by Suzuki and Kia.
The only manufacturer in the top-five not from the Far East is the Czech manufacturer, Škoda, who are owned by the Volkswagen group.
Top 5 most reliable car brands
Did you know?
1 in 4 recalled vehicles in the USA are not repaired according to Consumer Reports.
This statistic is so important, because it means if you purchased a car in the last five years, there’s a chance it could be a recalled vehicle without you knowing, and it could have deep-seated safety faults.
If you purchased a second-hand car recently, which was found to have been recalled before, don’t panic. Most makers will offer free recalls and repairs. Check with your local authorised dealership.
The risk of purchasing a previously-recalled vehicle increases for second-hand cars, and it transpires that 80% of people purchasing second-hand vehicles don’t check if their car has been subject to a recall.
"Buying a used vehicle makes sense because it is cheaper. You should ask the dealer as many questions as you can, to see how well they know the history of the vehicle and how honest and trustworthy you perceive them to be. You should also inspect the appearance of the vehicle. For example, mismatched paint or rust can signify previous collisions or flood damage, which can have adverse effects later on. I’d also strongly advise taking the car for a test drive."Neil Hutchinson,ChairmanMercury Cars
BMW parliamentary select committee
In 2018, BMW recalled 268,000 cars in the UK due to a stalling risk and potential fire hazard. Over 1.6 million cars were recalled worldwide because of these faults.
As with the Volkswagen scandal, all the affected vehicles were diesel, and the vehicles in question were manufactured between August 2010 and January 2017. Using the information we’ve provided, check your car to see if it matches these specs and make sure it is not affected by this issue.
Recalled BMW models
The recall covers certain models in the following series: 1 Series, 2 Series, 3 Series, 4 Series, 5 Series, 6 Series, 7 Series, X1, X3, X4, X5, X6.
Find out if your car was recalled on Which?.
These recalls led to a select committee inquiry by the UK Transport Committee.
The Committee aimed to establish why the recalls by BMW took so long after the manufacture of some of the vehicles, as well as the nature of the investigation into the vehicle faults. In addition, it looked at how the recall was managed and finally, how and when information reached vehicle owners.
BMW executives and key DVSA representatives were interviewed - the full transcript of the interviews can be read on gov.uk.
Suzuki led motorcycle recalls during the survey period, with 28.56% of all recalls, followed by Honda with 26.92% and BMW with 19.71%.
Motorcycle recalls peaked between 2014-19, with a high in 2016, after a large Suzuki recall of 51,467 models. This spike in recalls was caused by an electrical fault, which led to battery problems. This type of fault is particularly dangerous, because it can lead to unexpected stalling.
Suzuki is the only motorcycle manufacturer which features across each year in the DVSA data.
Overall, Suzuki and Honda recalled the most motorcycles during this period.
The trend of recall data varies between cars and motorcycles. Motorcycles went through a recall peak in 2016, due to the unprecedented Suzuki recall, but 2017 and 2018 saw huge declines in the number of recalled motorcycles. Meanwhile, car recalls increased steadily in 2017, peaking in 2018, before a 68% decrease in 2018.
Harley Davidson and Indian Motorcycles only contributed 0.24% of the total motorcycle recalls from 2014-19. No doubt that consumers who value reliable motorcycles will be interested by these figures.
BMW is the only brand to feature in first position twice (2015 and 2017), so consumers may want to carry out extensive research when considering purchasing a new BMW motorcycle, or indeed one manufactured in the time period when the 2015-17 recall models were built.
Aside from cars and motorcycles, we compiled extensive data on the number of recalls of trucks, vans and buses.
The number of recalled trucks, vans and buses will be particularly useful to public transport, logistics and haulage companies looking to procure a reliable fleet of vehicles to serve their business needs.
Trucks & vans
The total number of truck and van recalls between 2014-19 is lower than the total number of car recalls, owing to the fact there are far fewer vans and trucks on our roads.
Vans comprise 3% of the recall data, while trucks account for just over 1%.
The spikes in the number of truck and van recalls between 2017-19 relate to Mercedes Benz truck recalls. In 2017, Mercedes recalls accounted for 62.61% of the year’s truck recalls. In 2018, 64.77% of van recalls were Mercedes vans.
The trend line for bus recalls inclines across the period analysed, with significantly more bus recalls in 2019 than other years. This is due to the large number of recalls by Alexander Dennis buses -11,550 overall.
There’s a significant increase in total recalls from 2016 onwards, mainly from the large number of Volvo Bus recalls in 2017 (4,568) and 2018 (7,469).
As we know, Mercedes Benz is the most recalled car brand of 2019. However, this doesn’t mean that car buyers should be permanently put off from buying Mercedes cars.
It’s clear that the brand with the most recalls varies from year to year and depends on a number of factors.
However, it is worth remembering that consumers should always carry out appropriate research, when considering purchasing a brand with consistently high recall figures or low dependability ratings.
Vauxhall was the most recalled brand between 2014-19 (1.63 million), while BMW was the second most frequently recalled car brand between 2014-19 (1.6 million).
Audi was the brand with the least recalls over this period (1.3 million), 26% lower than Vauxhall’s number of recalls.
Our comparison tables
After reading this article you may be convinced of the need to protect your car. Check out our car warranty and breakdown cover comparison tables, to choose the best deal for you. Check out our car warranty and breakdown cover comparison tables, to choose the best deal for you.
Third party data in this article was provided by the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency [DVSA] via freedom of information and was correct at the time of publication.
The data displays the number of cars by make and model that were recalled between 2014 & 2019.
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