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.
Analysts see two big factors: Automakers everywhere are being extra careful after seeing Toyota get slapped with a $1.2 billion fine earlier this year to settle charges it hid safety problems. 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.
This year has been the worst since the 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. 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 United States 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 Cornell University.
Many of the defects have been serious: faulty ignition switches, overheating exhaust parts, power steering problems.
But others, not so much. This month, GM recalled 184 Chevrolet and GMC trucks that were equipped with floor mats prone to move under the driver’s feet. GM also recalled more than 57,000 trucks whose chimes did not work if a key was in the ignition while a driver’s door is open, or a front seat belt is not buckled.
The cost of recalls can strain automakers. GM estimates its recalls will take $2 billion off its bottom line this year.
But there is an upside. Analysts say that at least two in three recall notices is fulfilled, meaning that dealers get to have their old customers back in the showroom. There, they can show off new models, and, at minimum, be in a position to sell drivers on some repairs they previously were not considering.
‘‘The recalls, per se, are not bad,’’ Wheaton said. ‘‘The thing is how you handle them, and are you, as an automaker, seen as trying to hide something. If done right, they can help dealers and automakers.”
People who follow the industry say car owners should expect to see a large number of recall notices going forward. As cars are equipped with more computer and other electronic components, the chances of defects increase. Also, Wheaton noted, more autos than ever share parts, meaning that if one part is bad, more vehicles will have to be recalled to fix the problem.