The largest civil penalty ever imposed was handed down to General Motors when a windshield wiper on 581,344 SUVs wasn't dealt with in accordance to the DOT's regulations. Although no automaker has ever incurred the maximum penalty, judging by Secretary Ray LaHood's recent comments about Toyota's handling of the matter ("While Toyota is taking responsible action now, it unfortunately took an enormous effort to get to this point."), it's not so much a matter of when as it is how much.
[Source: Automotive News - Sub. Req. | Image Source: Alex Wong/Getty]