8 of History’s Most Infamous Automotive Scandals

The news about the recent VW scandal has rocked the world. What do you mean we can’t trust the companies that make our cars?! Newsflash. However, this isn’t the first time an automotive scandal has shocked the population. Here are some of the most scandalous tales from history.


Ford Pinto Horror

While this car proved to be extremely popular after its release in 1971, selling over 320,000 in its first year, there was one big problem. A problem that Ford knew all about, yet kept it to itself. If anything were to crash into the rear-end of this vehicle, the fuel tank could be punctured by the fuel filler neck separating. This would lead to fuel being splashed into the passenger area of the Pinto, before being ignited. A rather serious problem, we’re sure you’ll agree! In an expose in 1977 it was revealed the Ford knew all about the defect and had even worked out how many deaths it could cause, plus how much each of those deaths would cost in lawsuits. They went onto say, in a company memo, that it would be cheaper to deal with each lawsuit then to fix the issue. Nearly 900 people died from the issue and hundreds of millions of dollars was paid out by the company.


Chevy Cobalt Nightmare

This is another one of the most dangerous cars ever sold, alongside the Ford Pinto. The Chevy Cobalt was a fairly boring compact car that should never really have made headlines. However, in 2007 nearly 100,000 were recalled due to safety issues. Another 1.3 million were recalled in 2010 due to an issue with the power steering system. The real problem was with a dodgy ignition switch which caused cars to stop working while moving along at some speed and could also shut off safety systems like airbags. Chevy knew about the issue but thought it would cost too much to fix. After 90 deaths, 2.6 million Cobalts were recalled and a lawsuit was set up for billions of dollars which Chevy still believes they shouldn’t have to pay.


General Motors Smear Campaign

Chrysler released their famous Airflow model in 1934 and it became one of the most advanced and aerodynamic cars ever to have been built. General Motors, the competing company, certainly weren’t too happy about having their thunder stolen. In order to combat the issue, they purchased ads in the Sunday Evening Post which said that the car was a danger to the roads, but also that it had been stolen from GM. This smear campaign was somehow extremely successful and General Motors were never taken to court after what they’d done. The Airflow was discontinued in 1937, despite an incredible newsreel showing just how safe the vehicle really was. This was a real shame for Chrysler, as their advanced vehicle making methods are even still being used today.


Audi 5000 Debacle

This is one of the naughtiest scandals we’ve ever seen. While Audi are an automotive powerhouse now, they could easily have been put out of business after this debacle in the late 1980s. They released the Audi 5000 in 1982, in an effort to establish themselves as a premium brand. The sporty sedan was doing well until an expose was released on CBS in 1986. It showed owners of the car who claimed that their Audi 5000 would suddenly accelerate, while the news team even showed footage of what seemed to be the car moving forward of its own accord. What they didn’t show is that the TV crew had modified the car, to make it move forward seemingly by itself. It turns out that the gas and brake pedals were too close together, leading people into confusion. The misleading news story could easily have shut Audi down, after causing a slump in sales.


Toyota and Lexus Acceleration

From one car manufacturer who’s unintended acceleration was truly accidental, to another who could have killed hundreds of people. The issue was first bought to light when Toyota were shown a 911 call from someone who believed his car was accelerating by itself. The car managed to hit 125mph before the man crashed and killed all four people, back in 2009. While Toyota and Lexus tried to blame the driver and then the floor mats, it turned out that they had been hiding documents which showed there was really a flaw in the gas pedal. They admitted to misleading the company, had to recall 9.3 million vehicles between them, and pay a whopping $1.2 billion to the US government in order to avoid being prosecuted. That’s the biggest criminal penalty of any car manufacturer in the world.


Tucker Fraud

Ever seen a Tucker car on the road? It’s unlikely. This company was set up in 1948 and unveiled a rather sexy looking vehicle. A huge advertising campaign and a charismatic owner (Preston Tucker) was all the company needed to gain some real interest from buyers around the world. The Tucker 48 wanted to improve passenger protection with a range of optional safety features, such as a pop-out windshield and padded dashboard. However, things began to look a little shady. Tucker started asking customers for money for upgrades on cars that hadn’t even been built. Setbacks kept on delaying production and finally the US government got involved. By 1950 Tucker and his directors were indicted for fraud and the company was shut down. Only 51 cars were ever built by the factory, which makes it one of the most sought after classic cars on the planet.


Airbag Hell

This is one of the biggest recalls we have ever seen in our lives! Japanese company Takata created airbags for millions of cars, between 2000 and 2008. Ten of the biggest car manufacturers in the world invested in Takata airbags for their vehicles, without knowing the serious trouble that lay ahead. Turns out, these airbags could be impacted by moisture and even set off with too much force. If the airbag were to break then metal shrapnel and chemicals could come flying out of the carcass and injure passengers in the car. The New York Times exposed the issue and made allegations that Honda and Takata both knew about the issue back in 2004, yet said nothing about it. It’s thought that 30 million cars may still have the potentially fatal airbags inside, while 17 million have already been recalled.


Ford Explorer vs Firestone

This one seems like a playground argument that got out of hand. The Explorer was one of the most popular SUVs sold by Ford, during a time when these vehicles were rising in popularity. It was released in 1990, complete with Firestone tires; the company who had supplied Ford for nearly 100 years. The NHTSA asked the two companies to help them investigate as to why they had been such a high number of car rollovers, caused by blowouts. Unsurprisingly, Ford said it was Firestone causing the problem, and Firestone said it was Ford. Nearly 100 deaths were caused by the issue, which led to Firestone recalling 6.5 million tires. Ford quickly caught up and recalled another 13 million tires, just a few months later. The companies tried smearing each other for years, in various lawsuits, before parting ways in 2002. No one knows which company actually caused the issue either…