History’s Epic Car Failures

  • Car Misfires

    Toyota’s recent recall of 3.8 million vehicles due to accelerator pedal problems is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to cars being pulled off the market for safety concerns. And safety problems aren’t limited to the past decade or two, during which tough and heavy car construction gave way to lighter and cheaper materials. Here are some of the most egregious examples of cars have failed us over the past 60 years. Photo Credit: ellievanhoutte
    Toyota Pedal Problems
  • Toyota Pedal Problems

    Toyota Motor (Stock Quote: TM) announced a recall of 3.8 million of its cars, trucks and sport utility vehicles in the fall of 2009 after numerous reports that floor mats may have caused accelerator pedals to stick. About a month later, the automaker said it would fix the pedals and install a brake override system to cut the engine when both accelerator and brake pedals are compressed. But some critics still say Toyota is avoiding the real problem: glitchy electronic throttle control systems which are meant to regulate the amount of fuel burned, according to the LA Times. Photo Credit: mulmatsherm
    Ford and Firestone Play the Blame Game
  • Ford and Firestone Play the Blame Game

    After hundreds of deaths related to rollover accidents specifically in Ford (Stock Quote: F) Explorer sport utility vehicles with certain Firestone tires starting in the 1990s, the automaker and tire manufacturer blamed each other’s faulty product design for the crashes. Ultimately, Firestone’s Radial ATX, Radial ATX II and Wilderness AT tires sold as original tires or replacement tires of Ford Explorers were recalled and replaced. In 2000, the Ford Explorer design was criticized for its uneven weight distribution, which added extra pressure on the left rear tire, Firestone was criticized for missing what turned out to be a critical safety feature in tire construction. Those two conditions, plus the heat from Texas, Arizona, California and Florida roads made for an especially dangerous combination. Photo Credit: The U.S. National Archives
    Ford Pintos Catch Fire
  • Ford Pintos Catch Fire

    The sub-compact Ford Pinto entered the U.S. auto market in 1971, amid peaking gas prices that drove consumers to buy smaller, more fuel efficient vehicles. But while the Pinto may have provided just that, there were a few fatal flaws. Probably the most serious of these was the fact that there wasn’t enough reinforcement between the car’s rear panel and its gas tank, making a rear-end collision a serious fire hazard. Ford was aware of these problems, but according to a report from Mother Jones, the company decided it was cheaper to let the accidents happen and deal with the lawsuits than to fix the vehicles. “This cost-benefit analysis argued that Ford should not make an $11-per-car improvement that would prevent 180 fiery deaths a year,” the magazine reported. Photo Credit: omniNate
    Cops Killed in Crown Vics
  • Cops Killed in Crown Vics

    A similar problem was found more recently in Ford cars whose design, for a period of time, was inexorably associated with the police: the Crown Victoria. Police officers, state troopers, cab drivers and everyday Americans were killed when rear-end collisions resulted in gas tank explosions. Ford may have learned from its previous mistake, agreeing in 2002 to install safety shields around rear-end gas tanks on Crown Victoria Interceptor police cars and taxi drivers. Private owners of Crown Vics, however, had no such luck. Ford didn’t offer them the repair. Photo Credit: su.bo
    Mitsubishi Coverup
  • Mitsubishi Coverup

    Like Ford, Mitsubshi has been accused of covering up vehicle defects to avoid major recalls. In avoidance maneuver tests, the 2001 Mitsubishi Montero tipped onto two wheels at just 37 miles per hour, according to a Consumer Reports study indicating a high rollover risk likely due to a high center of gravity. Luckily for SUV lovers, today’s vehicles are designed with lower –and safer – centers of gravity. Photo Credit: viZZZual.com
    Suzuki Rollovers
  • Suzuki Rollovers

    The Suzuki Grand Vitara is another boxy SUV known for weak construction that’s resulted in rollover deaths and, as a result, lawsuits filed as recently as 2008. As a result of the Grand Vitara problems, however, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety came up with a roof strength rating system to help inform consumers about the safest car buys. “More than 10,000 people a year are killed in rollovers,” notes the IIHS. “When vehicles roll, their roofs hit the ground, deform, and crush. Stronger roofs crush less.” Photo Credit: Grantuking
    Scary Chevrolet Corvair
  • Scary Chevrolet Corvair

    The Corvair was made infamous by the 1965 Ralph Nader book, Unsafe at Any Speed, which used it as an opening example of a car with a dangerous design. Because of its weight distribution, the Corvair led Nader to worry that hard turns could cause a rollover or cause the rear outside wheel to blow out. Parent company General Motors (Stock Quote: GM) knew of the issue, but executives chose not to add a roll bar in the car for added safety, which would have cost between $4 and $6 per vehicle, according to some reports. Thanks to concerns about the Corvair, however, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration was formed in 1966. Photo Credit: Hugo90
    Chevy Engines Fall Off
  • Chevy Engines Fall Off

    Chevy engines were coming loose from car frames in many 1965 to 1969 models, flooring gas pedals and causing brake failure, resulting in one of the largest auto recalls of all time. About 6.7 million cars, including the Camaro, Caprice, Impala and Nova were pulled off the market in 1971. GM knew about the defect two years before the recall, and the company designed a replacement part to fix the problem, but few owners of the affected cars received the part, Time Magazine notes. Photo Credit: mashleymorgan
    Honda Seatbelt Failure
  • Honda Seatbelt Failure

    As state governments have been arguing for years, seat belts are an important safety tool that saves lives. But in 1995, seatbelt problems in several Honda cars trapped drivers and passengers in cars after accidents or even failed to work at all, according to Automotive.com. About 3.7 million cars were recalled including the popular Civic and Accord as well as the Acura Legend and Integra. Photo Credit: bionicteaching
    Ford Seatbelts Detach
  • Ford Seatbelts Detach

    Seatbelt faults also led to a recall of 4.1 million 1970 and 1971 model year Fords. Shoulder harnesses of seat belts in Ford, Lincoln and Mercury cars frayed, causing them to detach from the metal parts that held them to seat frames, according to Automotive.com. While not many drivers wore seat belts back then, their failure may have made it harder to convince drivers that they were necessary to ensure their safety. Photo Credit: Criterion
    Stones and Steering
  • Stones and Steering

    One might not think that a car with the heavy construction of those in the ‘70s might be dangerous when driving over pebbles on the road, but many GM owners discovered that their cars weren’t as tough as they might have thought. Stones on the road were actually knocked upward and disabled the steering assembly in certain Caprice, Impala, Bonneville, Centurion, LeSabre, Belair, and other GM vehicles. In 1973, the company agreed to install shields on engines to prevent the problem. Photo Credit: WmJas
    GM Out of Control
  • GM Out of Control

    In 1981, bolts in the suspension of a number of GM models were coming loose, resulting in the loss of steering control. About 5.8 million cars were recalled. Affected models included the El Camino, Malibu, Monte Carlo, Cutlass, Century, Regal and LeMans. Photo Credit: modomatic
    GM’s Collapsing Tailgates
  • GM’s Collapsing Tailgates

    Corroded cables on truck tailgates led to their unexpected collapse, causing injuries to about 134 people. As a result, 3.6 million trucks, including the Silverado, Sierra, Escalade and Avalanche were recalled in 2004. Photo Credit: star5112
    Ignition Problems
  • Ignition Problems

    Ignition switch fires were reported in a number of Ford models, leading to the recall of about 8.6 million cars including the Escort, Mustang, Thunderbird, Bronco, Cougar, Crown Victoria, Lincoln Town Car and top-selling F-Series trucks in 1996. Photo Credit: mynameisharsha
    Cruise Control on Fire
  • Cruise Control on Fire

    In yet another Ford-related fire problem, cruise control switches in 1993 to 2004 Lincoln and Mercury SUVs, pickups, cars and vans were recalled in 2008 due to a risk of catching fire. Photo Credit:badgerstew
    VW and Slave Labor
  • VW and Slave Labor

    This is more along the lines of a social failure which Volkswagen will never be able to live down: the company used slave labor from the Nazi era. Decades later, the German automaker joined a group of companies agreeing to give reparations to survivors of the Nazi regime, according to the BBC. Still, what’s done is done. Photo Credit: Elmo Alves
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