A Brief History
On August 10, 1978, 3 members of a family died in a fiery crash when their Ford Pinto was rear-ended. The bolts on the differential were positioned in such a manner that in the case of a rear-end collision, the bolts would pierce the gas tank. Ford had known about the problem but chose not to correct it, electing to pay off lawsuits instead. This goof is just one of the many really bad design features on of cars over the years. The following article lists the 10 worst features, as based on the author’s opinion.
10. VW Beetle, Heater.
With their air-cooled engines, heating drivers and passengers in Bugs has always been a problem. Heat-exchange boxes and all the other components that can rust, do rust, and the risk of unclean engine air being pumped into the passenger compartment is everpresent. Foil and cardboard air ducts do not make the car any more reliable, either. For the heating system to work correctly, just about all the seals and pieces and parts have to be in like-new condition, which is unlikely unless the car is actually new.
9. Space Saver Spare Tires.
These mini-spares, or donuts as people call them, are supposed to save a little bit of space and a few pounds of weight. One might suspect, though, that in reality they have been designed to save the manufacturers a few pounds of money. Instructions clearly state one is to travel at a reduced speed for only about 50 miles, but that may put a driver in a location where getting a real replacement tire is incredibly expensive or accompanied by a waiting period. With today’s all-wheel drive cars, driving with a “donut” requires special considerations and can screw up the wheel speed sensors. Furthermore, if there is no room for a full-sized spare, where does one put the flat? If the flat fits in the mini-spare compartment, why not have a full-sized spare in there in the first place?
8. Hood Ornaments.
Yes, they look cool. The Rolls-Royce “Spirit of Ecstasy” or the Jaguar “Leaper” signify to people that the driver/owner has an exclusive automobile, which is ok unless the car hits a pedestrian. Although for years now the hood ornaments have been made with a flexible wire cable that attaches them to the car, they still represent a dangerous and unnecessary lethal weapon against pedestrians. They are also ridiculously expensive to replace when some miserable punk steals one to wear around his larcenous neck.
7. Vintage Pick-up Truck, Gas Tank.
Before 1973 most pick-up trucks had the gas tank inside the passenger cab right behind the driver’s seat. Seriously, this entry is not a joke. How anyone could possibly think that was a good idea is a mystery, but then again car companies have always been innovative thinkers when it comes to bad ideas. GM suffered tons of bad press just for putting the truck’s gas tank outside the frame rail in the notorious “side-saddle” position and had to change that as well.
6. Automatic Seatbelts attached to the Door.
The idea apparently was to get people to wear their seatbelt without having to do anything. Of course, the motorized gizmo would get into contact with one’s head if one did not pay particular attention when getting out of the car, and in crashes where the doors popped open, a person would no longer be belted in. The kicker? One still had to manually fasten one’s lap belt.
Described by some as “the most-ordered, least-used option,” this contraption for wannabe convertible drivers adds weight, reduces head room, decreases safety, often breaks down (usually when open) and sometimes leaks. Plus, it gives vandals one more thing to break. On the other hand, they do make for exciting movie scenes with people crawling in and out of them and helicopters rescuing people through them.
4. Low-Back Seats.
Have you ever sat in or looked at a car from the mid-60s or earlier? The seats had frighteningly low back rests, which almost screams “Whiplash!” Why it took so long to put in headrests or to raise the seatbacks is baffling. Minor rear-end collisions were not always so minor due to this idiocy.
3. Chevrolet Vega, Engine.
The original aluminum block engine was so bad and so poorly cooled that the 1971 Motor Trend Car of the Year had to have its motor redesigned in 1976. An aggressive campaign touting its reliability followed. The original engine drank oil like a fish, vibrated ferociously and failed on a regular basis, making it one of the worst engines ever to be put into an American car. The rest of the car was not very good either and was so prone to rust that some of them rusted right through the body while still on the car lot! GM also ended up wasting $50 million on licensing fees to develop a Wankel engine for the Vega that was supposed to cut gas mileage by a third.
2. Ford Pinto, Gas Tank.
Even knowing full well about the danger to occupants of Pintos in a rear-end collision, Ford chose not to spend the $11 per car to put a protective plastic plate between protruding bolts on the differential and the gas tank. A memo was leaked which detailed that Ford management had decided that it would be cheaper to pay off the lawsuits of people who had been incinerated instead. In 1978, Ford finally recalled the defective cars and installed protective barriers between the bolts and the gas tank and between the rear shock absorber and the gas tank. Ford also exchanged the fuel filler necks.
1. General Motors, Ignition Switches.
In yet another stunning case of a car company being aware of a serious problem and not recalling its cars until forced to, GM knew about a faulty ignition switch on millions of its cars that might cause the car to suddenly stop running and result in a crash, while deactivating the air bags at the same time. So far 28 million vehicles have been recalled in 2014, 25 million of them in the U.S. It turns out GM knew of the problem as early as 2005 and let it go for 9 years!
Question for students (and subscribers): Which flaws would you include in the list? Please let us know in the comments section below this article.
Your readership is much appreciated!
For more information, please read…
Chapman, Giles. Worst Cars Ever Sold. Sutton Publishing, 2007.
Cheetham, Craig. The World’s Worst Cars. Barnes and Noble Books, 2005.