Automotive recalls cost $22 billion in 2016

That’s a 26 percent increase over the previous year. Yikes.

Steven Ewing Former managing editor
Steven Ewing spent his childhood reading car magazines, making his career as an automotive journalist an absolute dream job. After getting his foot in the door at Automobile while he was still a teenager, Ewing found homes on the mastheads at Winding Road magazine, Autoblog and Motor1.com before joining the CNET team in 2018. He has also served on the World Car Awards jury. Ewing grew up ingrained in the car culture of Detroit -- the Motor City -- before eventually moving to Los Angeles. In his free time, Ewing loves to cook, binge trash TV and play the drums.
Steven Ewing
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Takata's faulty airbag inflators accounted for a huge chunk of all vehicles recalled in 2016.

Joe Raedle/Getty Images

A staggering 53.1 million vehicles were recalled in the US in 2016. According to Automotive News, citing a study by AlixPartners (PDF), this resulted in $22.1 billion in claims and warranty accruals by automakers and suppliers, a 26 percent increase over the previous year.

That 53.1 million number represents a 4.5 percent increase over the 50.8 million vehicles recalled in 2015, making 2016 the highest year on record. But remember, 2016 was also the year of Takata's massive airbag recall, as well as General Motors' infamous ignition switch fiasco, both of which accounted for around 23 million vehicles.

As in-car tech has become a bigger and bigger focus for automakers, those components have been the subject of more and more recalls in the past several years. Automotive News says recalls of electronics and electrical systems have risen 30 percent each year since 2013, whereas for a period of years before that, this annual increase rate was about 5 percent.

The big reason comes down to globalization of platforms and technologies. Without local variation in vehicle content, when something goes wrong, it can be a more widespread issue.

"As the number of vehicles using similar systems increases, so do the number of issues detected since the larger production volumes attract closer observation. As a result, recall notices are increasingly likely to involve not thousands but millions of vehicles," the AlixPartners study says.

The study, "The Auto Industry's Growing Recall Problem -- and How to Fix It" (PDF), suggests that automakers and suppliers have cut as much as 50 percent of quality control spending in recent years, directly leading to the larger number of recalls.