Top 10 Worst Car Scandals In History
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Top 10 Worst Car Scandals In History

VOICE OVER: Rebecca Brayton
You might want to think twice before getting into one of these cars. For this list, we are taking a look at scandals involving automotive companies that resulted in recalls. Some of these entries not only resulted in recalls, but injury, death, as well as damage toward public and private property. Not to mention the significant damage done to the reputation of these brands. Which of these scandals do YOU find the most disturbing? Let us know in the comments!

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Top 10 Worst Car Scandals In History

You might want to think twice before getting into one of these cars. Welcome to WatchMojo, and today we’re counting down our picks for the Top 10 Auto Recalls and Scandals.

For this list, we are taking a look at scandals involving automotive companies that resulted in recalls. Some of these entries not only resulted in recalls, but injury, death, as well as damage toward public and private property. Not to mention the significant damage done to the reputation of these brands.

#10: Takata: Seatbelts (1995)

In 1995, reports of faulty seatbelts, produced by Japanese automotive parts manufacturer Takata, were sent to the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. That same year, a recall was issued for seatbelts in more than 8 million cars from 1986 to 1991. The defect in these Takata-products belts was the plastic, which would turn brittle when exposed to sunlight for long periods of time. This led to either the buckle breaking, providing no protection, or jamming, trapping the user. Despite no deaths being reported, there were around 50 injuries. The recall didn’t just affect one make either; Takata belts were by many brands – including Honda, Nissan, Mazda, Subaru, and even some GM, Ford, and Chrysler models.

#9: Ford: Defective Ignitions (1996)

In 1996, Ford issued the second largest recall in its history, recalling 8.7 million cars from 1988 to 1993 for a defective ignition switch. These ignitions had the possibility of short-circuiting, causing the steering column to overheat and sometimes light on fire. According to the complaints sent to Ford, more than 1,000 fires were caused by this defect in the US and Canada. These fires not only destroyed multiple cars, but also caused fires in some homes when cars were parked in garages. There were also injuries reportedly caused by these fires; 21 being from the US and an additional nine from Canada.

#8: General Motors: Engine Mounts (1971)

GMissued the then largest recall in the US in 1971, reluctantly recalling around 6.7 million cars. The issue concerned the engine mounts of certain cars, which could break, allowing the engine to move freely. This caused damage, naturally, to multiple parts of the car, leading to issues such as unintended acceleration and not being able to switch into park. While this was bad enough, GM actually knew about the issue before the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration approached them. However, the case was put on hold until more reports came in and the media reported on the issue. GM did eventually recall the defective vehicles, however, they maintained that the issue shouldn’t be labeled “a safety defect”.

#7: Fiat Chrysler: Hacking (2015)

In 2015, Fiat Chrysler recalled 1.4 million cars due to a software flaw, which could allow hackers to gain control of a vehicle’s engine, brakes, and even steering. Two hackers, Charlie Miller and Chris Valasek, had developed software that could exploit this flaw and told the Chrysler before making their findings public, hoping it would fix the issue. Initially, Fiat Chrysler planned on issuing an update through their website and notifying their customers. However, the NHTSA told Chrysler an official recall was necessary due to the potential dangers toward the public. The company then issued a recall for certain vehicles with touchscreens, making it the first official recall due to a hacking threat.

#6: General Motors: Ignition Switch Defect (2014)

Appearing again with more recent scandal, 2014 saw GM issue a recall for 2.6 million cars sold with an ignition switch defect. The faulty part could easily slip out of “run” and into accessory mode, thereby disabling the power steering, braking, and airbags. This issue first arose in 2001, according to internal GM documents, but was supposedly fixed. The issue was again addressed in 2015, but instead of issuing a recall, GM paid out individual claims. This scandal eventually led to a recall of around 30 million cars worldwide and millions of dollars in fines, with the confirmed death toll being over 100.

#5: Ford & Firestone: Tread Separation (2000)

Ford and Firestone didn’t start the new millennium off on a good note. In 2000, the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration started an investigation based on complaints received about Ford SUVs and their Firestone tires. The first complaints included four deaths. However, after the investigation, more than 100 confirmed deaths were reported due to a defect in the tires. The issue came down to the tread of the faulty tires, which could rip apart at random moments; leading to the vehicles rolling over. Unsurprisingly, Ford and Firestone issued multiple recalls, totaling around 19.5 million tires. Both companies blamed each other for the issue, and it subsequently ended their long business relationship.

#4: Volkswagen: Emissions Scandal (2015)

In 2015, the US Environmental Protection Agency announced that Volkswagen was using software in their diesel cars to cheat emissions tests. The software detected when the car was being tested and scaled back emissions, but when driven normally, the car would revert back. It was estimated that these cars produced 40 times more pollutants than what is allowed in the US. Later that year, Volkswagen announced that around 11 million cars were affected worldwide, with half a million being in the US. Volkswagen issued multiple recalls, including a buyback program, and spent billions to cover fines and give compensation to their customers. Multiple executives, including the CEO, resigned and some were fired.

#3: Takata: Deadly Airbags (2013-15)

Almost 20 years after their first major recall, Takata was deep into an even bigger scandal; this time involving airbags. In 2013, it was discovered that chemicals inside a metal canister in their airbags were defective, causing the canister to explode with greater force than intended, sending metal shrapnel into the cabin of the car. Over 30 million cars from 10 different manufacturers were found to be defective and recalled. Honda alone recalled millions of cars, however, the company took their time alerting the public. In total, 13 deaths and over 100 injuries are reportedly tied to this defect.

#2: The Ford Pinto: Deadly Rear-End Collisions (1970-78)

The Pinto entered the market with mixed reviews, but they shifted significantly in 1977 when Mother Jones Magazine published a report highlighting its most major defect. When rear-ended, the Pinto’s fuel tank could easily rupture, and ignite. The magazine also reported that Ford knew about this defect, but rather than re-design or issue recalls, decided to compensate possible victims due to the cost. Ford was then indicted for negligent homicide after the deaths of three teenage girls; however, the company was acquitted. In 1978, Ford finally issued a recall, installing parts to deflect contact with the fuel tank if rear-ended. In later years, some have questioned how severe the defect was and how public opinion might have led to exaggerations.

#1: Toyota: Unintended Acceleration (2009)

In 2009, Toyota recalled millions of vehicles due to multiple defects that resulted in unintended acceleration. What led to this recall? A family of four’s last moments as they described the issue to 911 operators. Some Toyota's had the unfortunate flaw of the gas pedal sticking or getting snagged in the floor mat, causing unintended acceleration. What’s more shocking is that Toyota knew about this issue and even recalled around 50,000 mats in 2007. However, it failed to issue a major recall or even change the design of the mat. Twelve deaths were linked to the defect and Toyota was fined for attempting to keep the issue quiet.