Beyond their standing as evergreen reliability champs in Consumer Reports metrics, Toyota and Honda are at the top of the latest 2013 J.D. Power Vehicle Dependability Study, released this past week. And Harris Interactive recently found Toyota, Ford, and Honda to be this year's top-rated auto companies in terms of reputation.
Yet those happen to be among the automakers with some of this past year's largest, highest-profile safety-recall efforts—especially those affecting used cars. Toyota and Honda topped the industry in number of vehicles recalled during 2012, with Toyota issuing recalls for 5,330,643 vehicles and Honda at 3,363,343 vehicles. GM was third in terms of vehicles recalled (1,476,319), and most visible, perhaps, because of its multiple recalls on the Chevrolet Cruze. Ford made waves with by far the highest number of individual recalls (24)—including several on its all-new 2013 Escape, which hit the market last spring—but it recalled a total of 1,398,837 vehicles in 2012.
But chew on this for a moment: Even industry-wide there were more vehicles recalled in 2012 than new vehicles sold. From 586 new recalls issued, that's about 16.2 million vehicles recalled—slightly more than the 15.5 million of 2011, but less than 2009 and 2010, when total recall numbers were affected by the massive Toyota and Lexus recalls. And it's a far cry from 2004's total of 30.8 million.
During this period (ranging back three years) when recalls have remained high, that latest J.D Power dependability study showed problems per 100 vehicles declining—to a record low. And curiously, some of the newest models are the least trouble-free.
Link between recalls and reliability? Not in most cases.
To the point, recalls really have nothing to do with vehicle reliability, durability, or even how trouble-free that family car or crossover might be in the long run; and there's no need to leave a model that's been recalled off the list when used-car shopping. And in some cases, recalls are a good sign, the result of a manufacturer being proactive, and fixing an important issue that could prove safety related but may never affect the owner or vehicle.
That's the case for Honda, which announced several major product recalls in 2012 that weren't related to late-model vehicles but those reaching back ten years or more—like a recall of 1,375,217 older Honda Civic and Honda Pilot models for an issue that might affect their headlights.
Some of Honda's recalls this year—the headlight recall, for instance—affect vehicles produced at a time when production was expanding rapidly, explained spokesman Chris Martin. “Our knowledge and experience have helped us to better understand how to avoid many of those concerns in the future.”