About 52% of Ford Pintos were brought in, even though that late-1970s recall -- which also involved gas tank fires -- was very high profile, according to Ditlow.
If there had been a public hearing by NHTSA, the agency could either agree with Chrysler's argument and drop the request for a recall or order an involuntary recall. If the automaker again refused to issue a recall, NHTSA could go to federal court to force a recall, though that process could take years.
There have been 17,000 recalls involving over 500 million vehicles since NHTSA started the recall process in 1966. It is rare that automakers challenge NHTSA on a recall and even rarer that one wins. Chrysler -- under different management than it is now -- was the last automaker to win such a challenge when it fought a 1996 recall of 91,000 cars in a dispute over its seat belt system.