Volkswagen Beetle (© Newspress Ltd)

Traditionally, product recalls are a "damned if you do, damned if you don't" proposition for automakers. Companies that diligently raise a recall flag run the risk that their competition will use the recall as an example of their own brand's superiority; those caught hiding a known defect until it's too late are often crucified in the media. The public has softened its view of recalls in recent years, and a recall or two no longer labels a model as a lemon for eternity. Manufacturers have also seen the light and now approach recalls in a proactive, concerned manner, as opposed to the reactionary backpedaling and denials with which they met federal recall actions in the past.

The auto industry probably will never be free of consumer-troubling recalls. It's inevitable: As vehicles become more advanced and use increasing numbers of complex electrical and mechanical systems, there are going to be a few problems.

Let's take a look at 10 of the largest recalls to date.

Bing: Current Vehicle Recalls

10. General Motors, 2004

Defect: Tailgate cable failure
Units affected: 3.66 million
Models affected: 1999-2004 Chevrolet Avalanche and Silverado; Cadillac Escalade; GMC Sierra
Date: March 2004
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration action number: PE03049
What happened: Between 1999 and 2004, 134 customers suffered minor accidents when tailgate cables corroded and failed and tailgates collapsed. According to GM, customers were clearly warned in the vehicles' operating instructions not to stand on open tailgates, but GM offered to replace the cables in 2004. It's worth noting that the galvanized-steel cables are fully exposed and in full view whenever the tailgate is operated — it seems a worn cable would be obvious. Here's betting more of the accidents happened in stadium parking lots than on construction sites.

9. Volkswagen, 1972

Defect: Loose windshield wipers
Units affected: 3.7 million
Models affected: 1949-'69 Beetle
Date: October 1972
NHTSA campaign number: 72V256000
What happened: Windshield wipers are essential for visibility, but for decades VW's wiper arms were notorious for working themselves loose and falling off. After years of customer complaints, VW finally relented in 1972 and agreed to replace the windshield wipers on millions of Volkswagens with an improved design that actually remained attached to vehicles during repeated use. Anyone old enough to remember how poorly the Beetle's noisy yet ineffective defroster worked will question how owners even knew their wipers were missing in the first place.

8. Honda, 1995

Defect: Faulty seatbelt buckle
Units affected: 3.7 million
Models affected: 1986-1991 Acura Legend, Integra and NSX; Honda Accord, Civic and Prelude
Date: May 1995
NHTSA campaign number: 95V103001
What happened: In the mid-1990s, Honda dealers noticed that the plastic seatbelt-release buttons on several of its models were failing, and that bits of broken plastic occasionally were falling into the seatbelt assembly and preventing it from properly securing the belt. Unfortunately, drivers may not have been aware of the situation until the assembly was under stress, such as in accident.

Read:  Seat Belts, Airbags & More

7. GM, 1973

Defect: Stone-guard assembly
Units affected: 3.71 million
Models affected: 1971-'72 Buick Centurion, Electra, Estate Wagon, LeSabre and Riviera; Chevrolet Bel Air, Biscayne, Brookwood, Caprice, Impala, Kingswood, Kingswood Estate and Townsman; Oldsmobile 88 and 98; Pontiac Bonneville, Grand Ville and Catalina
Date: January 1973
NHTSA campaign number: 73V013000
What happened: Apparently, large stones could lodge between the steering coupling and the frame of these GM heavyweights, preventing the operator from turning the vehicle to the left. Thankfully, GM remedied the situation with a quick and easy retrofit of a stone-guard assembly, protecting Americans' right to turn left.

6. Ford, 1972

Defect: Seatbelts fraying and detaching
Units affected: 4.07 million
Models affected: 1970-'71 Ford, Lincoln and Mercury vehicles
Date: June 1972
NHTSA campaign number: 72V160000
What happened: When it comes to vehicle-occupant safety, it's hard to beat a shoulder harness. But they aren't worth a dime if they fail under pressure like Gary Busey on an episode of "The Apprentice." So when a small plastic part on the shoulder harness of these vehicles began to crumble under pressure — possibly due to a molding defect — Ford did the right thing and implemented an inexpensive fix to keep passengers safe and in place under duress.

Read:  Should You Ignore an Auto Recall?

Find new and used cars with the new MSN Autos mobile app, available on multiple platforms.