Auto makers issued 136 recall campaigns in the U.S. this year with implications for an estimated 17.2 million light vehicles, making it one of the poorest performances in recent years but short of the record 24.3 million in 2000.

“It’s a big number,” says Bruce Belzowski, associate director of the Automotive Analysis Div. at the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute.

Last year, 16.4 million vehicles, including some heavy-duty models, were recalled, National Highway Traffic Safety Admin. data shows.

But, Belzowski says, the sheer quantity of vehicles called back for fixes must be tempered against the severity of the campaigns.

In other words, for every potentially sticky accelerator pedal or faulty power steering pump, campaigns are initiated to fix relatively innocuous items, such as an incorrect equipment label.

Auto makers also remain responsible for cars and trucks produced years ago, Belzowski adds, so while only a handful remain on the road, a full recall must be initiated.

“Recalls come in many different shapes and sizes,” he says, but the 2010 total “is still a big number, no question.”

According to a Ward’s analysis of all available NHTSA data for 2010, Toyota Motor North America Inc. leads the industry in both campaigns initiated and total vehicles recalled for the second consecutive year.

The longtime quality leader issued 17 campaigns potentially affecting some 6.6 million vehicles. Last year, Toyota grabbed the ignominious title for the first time by initiating nine campaigns ensnaring some 4.8 million vehicles.

In 2009 the culprit was ill-fitting floor mats pinning down accelerator pedals, accounting for 4.3 million of its total. This year, the same problem swept up 1.1 million more of its most popular models, including the Corolla/Matrix, Highlander and RAV4.

A second issue with the auto maker’s accelerator pedals traced back to a potentially faulty sensor, snagged another 2.2 million vehicles, including the popular Camry.

A possible engine problem in the Corolla/Matrix accounted for another 1.4 million of the auto maker’s 2010 tally.

Toyota’s accelerator problems have been linked to a number of deaths, including a California Highway Patrol officer and his family last year. Since the recalls began in 2009, the auto maker has revamped its quality-control checks and launched a massive public-relations program to repair its image.

Toyota officials tell Ward’s the auto maker has completed 65% of repairs to the 5.6 million vehicles recalled for faulty floor mats, including 80% of the models flagged in the first recall campaign last year for the problem.

Toyota’s dealers are finished with about 85% of the cars recalled for sticky accelerator pedals, spokesman Brian Lyons says.

It remains unclear how much market share Toyota may have lost because of the problem. Ward’s data shows the auto maker’s U.S. market share at 16.8% before the scandal in 2008 and at 15.2% through November.

“At this stage, we are still seeing the fallout,” UM’s Belzowski says.

Toyota on Monday agreed to pay a $16.4 million fine for not recalling cars and trucks with the pedal entrapment problem earlier, as well as an additional $16 million for not acting more promptly in 2005 to bring back 4Runner SUVs with faulty steering rods.

Earlier this year, the auto maker paid regulators $16.4 million for not acting swiftly enough to recall vehicles with the sticky pedal.

The latest fines bring Toyota’s penalties from NHTSA this year to $48.8 million.

Steve St. Angelo, chief quality officer at Toyota North America, says in a statement: “These agreements are an opportunity to turn the page to an even more constructive relationship with NHTSA and focus even more on listening to our customers and meeting their high expectations for safe and reliable vehicles.”

The previous high paid by an auto maker for not acting quickly enough on a recall came in 2004 when the former General Motors Corp. was fined $1 million.

This year, GM launched 16 campaigns this year affecting some 2.8 million vehicles, including an expanded effort dating back to 2008 to fix a module in a heated washer-fluid system that could cause a fire.

The latest campaign to remedy the problem affects some 1.4 million of GM’s most popular products, including its fullsize pickups, SUVs and cross/utility vehicles.

Last year, GM staged 12 recalls with implications for 2.2 million vehicles.

American Honda Motor Co. Inc., another quality standout for many years, issued 10 campaigns in 2010 affecting up to 2.2 million vehicles.

The campaigns include calling back 551,498 Accords, Civics and Elements as old as the ’03 model year because the interlock lever of the ignition switch may deform and automatic transmissions could slip out of park and roll away.

Honda recalled another 412,000 Element CUVs and Odyssey minivans for a brake problem.

Nissan North America Inc. conducted 13 campaigns affecting roughly 1.9 million vehicles, with the largest effort capturing 747,480 of its most popular trucks and SUVs because a faulty engine control module could lead to the motor overheating.

Chrysler Group LLC recalled 1.1 million vehicles in 12 campaigns. The largest affected 308,950 of its popular Chrysler Town & Country and Dodge Caravan minivans, with potentially faulty airbags to blame.

Ford Motor Co. improves dramatically, trimming its recall total this year to 562,901 vehicles from 4.5 million in like-2009. The biggest portion of its total included 492,650 ’98-’03 Windstar minivans in select states because corrosion can lead to a fractured rear axle.

In total, the three Detroit-based auto makers recall 4.6 million vehicles, while the Japan Three bring back 10.7 million.

Auto makers recalled a record 24.3 million vehicles in 2000, when the Ford/Firestone tire debacle was at its height.

jamend@wardsauto.com