Toyota's recall of Corollas last month for engine stalling pushed its U.S. safety recalls close to 6 million so far this year -- the most in a year for any automaker since 2004.
There's no question that Toyota, which has had a reputation for quality, is having a bad year -- with the most recalls in its history.
But it's far from the worst year that any automaker has ever had, according to an Automotive News review of National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data.
In 2004, General Motors issued 10.8 million recalls, many of pickup trucks with tailgate cables that were fraying and snapping, a GM spokesman said. The one-year record remains Ford's 21.4 million recalls in 1981, many for automatic transmission problems, a Ford spokesman said.
And if safety performance is considered over a more sustained period, Toyota's record of 10.2 million U.S. recalls in 2009-10 isn't as dismal as that of the Detroit automakers.
From 2000 to 2005, GM, Ford and DaimlerChrysler issued a total of 90 million recalls, NHTSA data show. GM accounted for 35.8 million of the recalls during that period -- an average of 6 million a year.
"This was a period when automakers started rolling out more complexity in cars such as electronics and convenience items," said Bill Visnic, a senior editor at Edmunds.com. "The industry was also selling a lot more vehicles."
In addition, the Transportation Recall Enhancement, Accountability and Documentation (TREAD) Act was enacted in 2000. The law raised maximum fines from $800,000 to $15 million (increased since to $16.4 million). It also introduced potential criminal penalties for misleading the government.
Those deterrents gave automakers an incentive to recall more vehicles, said Clarence Ditlow, head of the nonprofit Center for Auto Safety in Washington.
"When people started dying, the automakers started doing recalls," he said.
Ford issued 29.8 million recalls from 2000 to 2005,NHTSA data show.
During that period, Ford recalled millions of vehicles for leaky cruise-control deactivation switches that were reported to cause engine fires.
Ford recalled at least 16 million vehicles with faulty switches from 1999 to 2009. Even though it was drawn out over a decade, Ford's recall was the biggest for a single problem since NHTSA was formed in 1966, the agency's data show.
Ford also had the biggest one-time recall, with 7.9 million vehicles recalled in 1996 for an ignition malfunction.