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June 23, 2014

More than one in every 10 vehicles on the road has been recalled since January

It's becoming the year of the recall: Automakers have recalled more than 28 million vehicles in the United States this year — more than one in 10 vehicles on the road — putting the industry on track to trample the 2004 record of 30.8 million.

On Monday, Japanese automakers Honda and Nissan recalled close to 3 million vehicles worldwide to repair an air bag problem. Coupled with a recent Toyota recall to fix a similar problem, it means that in just the past month Japan's three largest automakers have called back more than 5 million vehicles worldwide to fix faulty air bags. It's unclear how many of those vehicles are in the United States.

Industry analysts see two big factors behind the flood of recalls: Automakers everywhere are being extra careful after seeing Toyota get slapped by a $1.2 billion fine earlier this year to settle charges that it hid safety problems from customers and regulators. And, of course, there's the debacle confronting General Motors, which is facing multiple investigations for taking more than a decade to recall cars equipped with a defective ignition switch linked to at least 13 deaths. As the chart below shows, this year has been the worst since government began tracking auto recalls in 1966, and summer has just started.

In February, GM started recalling 2.6 million Chevrolet Cobalts and other small cars equipped with defective ignition switches. But that was just the beginning. So far this year, GM has ordered 44 recalls covering 17.7 million vehicles in the United States and more than 20 million in North America, the automaker said. The U.S. recalls account for nearly two-thirds of all recalls in the country this year.

"Almost all automakers are doing a large number of recalls," said Arthur Wheaton, an automobile industry specialist at The Worker Institute at Cornell University.

Many of the defects have been serious: faulty ignition switches, overheating exhaust parts, power steering problems.

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