Ford is a staple brand in the American auto industry. Henry Ford’s famous assembly line revolutionized how cars – and other products – were made. The practice worked to improve productivity and reduce errors in the factory. But even with this system, no company is immune to mistakes.

The Ford brand has long been renowned for producing quality vehicles at affordable prices – creating the slogan “Built Ford Tough”. For all the good Ford has done for the auto industry since the early 1900s, the company has had its fair share of mistakes.

In this post, we want to discuss five significant Ford recalls in recent memory.

1.    Faulty Automatic Transmission – 1981 – 21 Million Vehicles

Let’s start with the biggest Ford recall. This recall is actually the biggest in automobile history! The company had to recall 21 million vehicles in 1981 due to issues when shifting gears. When the gear was set to park, the automatic transmission would not engage – even though the indicator showed the vehicle was in park.

It wasn’t until 98 people had died and just over 1,700 were injured until Ford issued the recall. The affected transmissions included:

  • FMX
  • C-3
  • C-4
  • C-6

The investigation started when the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration was notified in 1977 – and ran into the 1980s.

2.    Steering Problems – 2019 – 1.2 Million Vehicles

The 2010s were a rough decade for Ford SUV recalls. There was a big recall of 1.1 million Ford Explorers in 2014 – citing steering problems. These issues persisted in SUVs. By 2019, the brand had to recall 1.2 more 2011-2017 Explorer models.

Ford issued the recall when they discovered the steering defect could potentially fracture the rear suspension, which would be extremely dangerous for drivers. The recall also included around 123K F-series pickup trucks, due to issues with an idiopathic transmission downshift.

3.    Defective Shoulder Harnesses – 1972 – 4.37 Million Vehicles

The infamous 1972 recall was – at the time – the biggest recall in Ford history. The defect was caused by issues with the shoulder harnesses in certain 1970 and 1971 models.

These vehicles were equipped with a metal stud covered by a plastic sleeve locking the stud in place. It was soon discovered that the sleeves could break with ongoing use. This would result in the harness failing to lock. Ford claimed there were no injuries or accidents due to the issue – even though there were 80 reports of shoulder harness failures.

Fortunately, this recall did not set Ford back too badly, as the sleeve was inexpensive to replace.

4.    Problematic Cruise Control Switch – 2005 – 4.5 Million Vehicles

2005 saw 4.5 million Ford vehicles get recalled due to the cruise control switch creating a fire risk. Investigations showed that the fires were caused by faulty system interactions – not a single component of the vehicle. Repairing this defect needed a fused wiring harness – which acted as a circuit breaker.

At the time, this recall was the 4th biggest in American history.

The most commonly impacted vehicles included:

  • Ford Expedition
  • Lincoln Navigator
  • Ford Bronco

These models ranged from 1994 to 2002.

In addition to replacing the defective parts, the Ford brand advised customers to disconnect the cruise control feature altogether to avoid issues.

5.    Malfunctioning Ignition Switch – 1996 – 7.9 Million Vehicles


Faulty ignition switches have caused plenty of problems for Ford. In 1996, nearly 8 million Ford, Lincoln, and Mercury models were recalled due to fire hazards. The brand tried to sweep the issue under the rug – and even entertained the idea of redesigning the ignition switch. Unfortunately, this did not work as car fires in the affected models continued.

Ford attempted to divert blame from themselves by trying to convince the NHTSA that the fires were caused by something else.

An investigation in 1991 found the fires were primarily a result of electrical erosion. The following year, All Ford vehicles – with the ignition switch in question – were investigated. After three total investigations spanning nearly half a decade, Ford agreed to a recall.

Around 248K vehicles were initially recalled in Canada. Then approximately 8 million were recalled after the suit in 1996 – with plenty of pressure from the media.

Parting Words

Ford is no stranger to recalls. But we’d like to emphasize that no automaker is perfect. Ford produces millions of vehicles every year, most work perfectly fine.

If you are one of the unlucky buyers to purchase or lease a defective Ford vehicle, it’s important to know that you have options. If the defect exhibits itself while the vehicle is under warranty, Ford is required to repair it. In the scenario that the technicians are not able to repair the vehicle, you may be eligible for benefits under the state’s lemon law.

In some states, like California, you may be eligible for lemon law benefits for a defective used Ford. If this is the case for you, get in contact with a California lemon law lawyer to learn more about your options.

Author Bio:

Brian K. Cline’s Lemon Law Legal Group provides premier legal services. Our California lemon law lawyers aggressively and ethically force vehicle manufacturers to buy back defective and dangerous vehicles. Our team includes experienced trial lawyers with over 40 years of combined trial experience.

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