Every single day, virtually all living people take for granted the true and simple fact that driving a car can be extremely dangerous. Sure, the majority of the time, nothing goes wrong, so nobody gets hurt. However, given the horrifyingly volatile nature of the machines humans heavily rely on to perform the most basic day-to-day tasks, each time a person sits down in a car could be their last.
An estimated 1.3 million people die due to car accidents each year, averaging out to 3,287 deaths per day. The cars themselves generally aren’t to blame for these deaths, outside of the general sense that someone must have been driving during them. Sometimes, however, there are mechanical issues with the car that caused them to be more accident prone than others—and in the worst case scenarios, some cars were prone to outright exploding with little to no provocation. Early automobile manufacturers were already aware placing the gasoline required to fuel engines close to a sea of hot metals could easily spark an explosion, and that’s why they also implemented various safety measures to ensure this wouldn’t happen.
Unfortunately, not all future carmakers have been so careful, and a small handful of vehicles have proven particularly prone to explosion over the years. Although a wide range of makes and models have been accused of this design flaw, cars built Ford tough seem to be the most common offender, with a 10-year series of recalls indicating upwards of 14.3 million Ford automobiles were dangerously flammable. Chevy, BMW, and even designer brands like Ferrari have also made some questionable cars as well, though, so this is hardly a problem specific to one company. Regardless of designer, most of these cars were eventually recalled, although a few remain on the market in newer models, due to the strange nature of the accidents. Keep reading to discover which cars are infamous for exploding with a particularly horrifying frequency.
15 2011 Chevy Volt
The main issue causing cars to explode is the gasoline that fuels their engines, so it would be reasonable to assume hybrid and electric cars are less prone to this problem than the traditional variety. The Chevy Volt in particular is a plug-in hybrid that runs entirely on battery power until the battery drops below a threshold, and an internal combustion engine kicks in. Controversy arose after the initial Volt was introduced, however, when it was determined early tests indicated the battery itself was capable of catching fire after even relatively tame accidents.
Considering the fact electric cars in general are still a new concept and rather controversial amongst the auto industry, this revelation caused the National Highway Transportation Safety Agency to probe not only the Volt, but all electric cars for related safety issues. Ultimately, it was determined no other electric cars were at any particular risk. The original Volt utilized a lithium-ion battery, which was prone to overheating and gradually catching fire, and thus the company has since introduced new ways to enhance the internal cooling system and prevent fluids from leaking and causing a combustible situation.
14 2007-2011 BMW Mini Cooper S
Despite what this list might imply, it only takes a few cars exploding for it to be recognized as a trend, although in a way this is a matter of luck. It only took 81 fires that thankfully didn’t take any lives before BMW was aware there could be a design flaw in their vehicles, and 88,911 Mini Coopers were recalled in early 2012 as a result. The issue at hand was particular to models with a turbocharger, due to the fact a circuit board mounted on a water pump intended to cool said turbocharger was viable to malfunction and overheat.
The bigger problem was that if the turbocharger overheated, the fire could spread to the engine compartment and cause an explosion. Although no accidents were said to occur from this happening, 4 of the 81 cases reported to BMW did include fires of this nature, and easily could have lead to an explosion or injury if conditions were different when it happened.
13 1995-1997 and 2001-2003 Ford Ranger
Ford vehicles feature more on this list than any other make or model, and almost all of them featured the exact same problem. Drivers looking to turn off their cruise-control were instead met with a potential explosion, as evidence suggested a faulty deactivation switch was highly prone to cause a fire. The fire could easily and instantly spread to the engine, thus causing an explosion sending even the biggest and safest vehicles into the sky, along with their driver’s and passengers.
The Ford Ranger was manufactured from 1983 to 2012, and included this particular cruise-control problem for six of those 30 years. The Ford Ranger was also the best-selling compact truck in the United States during those six years, holding that title from 1987 to 2004. Obviously, the recall combined with the popularity of the vehicle could have been a cocktail for serious danger, but amazingly, no particularly high rate of injury related to the Ford Ranger was reported.
12 1995-1997 Mercury Mountaineer
Built tough though they may be, Ford automobiles aren’t exactly known for their flash and style, which is why the Ford Motor Company has owned a number of high end and luxury subsidiaries over the years. Mercury was a brand meant to bridge the gap between their higher end divisions and their more basic consumer vehicles, and the Mercury Mountaineer was essentially a fancier version of the Ford Explorer. As with many luxury cars, the main difference was a nicer interior, which may or may not have been worth the $5,000 price increase.
More importantly than any pricing situation, auto buyers needed to be ware the Mountaineer featured the same design flaw of the Explorer and the various other Ford cars on this list, namely the cruise-control deactivation switch could easily spark a fire that could spread to the engine. Additional controversy arose when it was discovered Mountaineers and Explorers had a high incidence of tire failure, which the Ford Motor Company blamed on Firestone Tire and Rubber.
11 1995-2002 Ford Explorer
Naturally, if the Mercury Mountaineer was basically the same car as the Ford Explorer, it should only make sense that the Explorer itself would feature on this list, as well. The Explorer was the true heart of the Firestone tire controversy, and was heavily featured in the massive Ford recall that would take place only a few years later. The similar Mazda Navajo was connected to the Firestone drama, but managed to avoid any link to the potential explosions, because it didn’t have the cruise-control deactivation switch that caused Ford’s many problems.
Ford had dealt with complaints from consumers, later revealed to be due to the switch, since as early as 1992, and yet for some reason didn’t act until February of 2008. Ford’s investigation quickly lead to a letter being sent to the National Highway Transportation Safety Agency. The organization then conducted an investigation of their own, which would discover the root of the problem.
10 1992-2003 Ford Econoline
The Ford Econoline is a big and bulky vehicle, and therefore one might assume they can be more durable than the average automobile on the road. As it would turn out, they are yet another victim of the massive Ford recall in 2009. Econolines, like the other Ford creations on this list, were equipped with the faulty cruise-control mechanism that easily malfunctioned, leaked fluid, and caught fire. Considering how hard it can be to see behind you when you’re driving one of these things, Econoline vans may have relied on this cruise-control mechanism more than the average car.
The National Highway Transportation Safety Agency investigation findings reported that the switches not only leaked fluid, but also easily overheated, which would cause that leaked fluid to ignite. Ford spokespeople would later explain that the switch itself was charged with an electrical current, which could easily lead to said overheating, not to mention ignite the fluid itself in the case of an electrical mishap. The Ford Motor Company was not responsible for creating the actual switches themselves, as they were designed by Texas Instruments.
9 1994 Ford F-35 Motorhome
The idea of a car exploding is horrifying for a great number of reasons, and the most immediate is likely that the people driving the car when it explodes are probably going to meet an awful fate themselves. The surprising reality is that most of the car explosions on this list didn’t result in injury, but they were still pretty horrible for the drivers in that they lost their automobiles. In the case of people driving the Ford F-35 Motorhome, they just may have lost their entire livelihoods.
Whether people are living in a trailer or merely using it for a vacation, they tend to put everything they need for normal life inside of their motorhome when they do so. That is, after all, what a word like motorhome would suggest you’re supposed to do. Unfortunately, the Ford F-35 Motorhome featured the infamous cruise-control deactivation switch that easily lead to fires, meaning people choosing to live in them could easily see their whole life go up in smoke if things went wrong.
8 2009 Ford Edge
Ford is taking a deserved pounding on this list due to their horrible cruise-control gaffe, and regrettably for them, that isn’t even the only explosive episode in the Ford Motor Company history books. In December of 2015, Ford began a recall of 110,636 vehicles due to a highly corrosive fuel tank seam weld. Given how much fuel can leak when the tank itself is compromised, potential for a massive fire greatly increased, and drivers were at high risk should any ignition source come near the leak.
Not unlike other Ford products on the list, the Edge was not the only automobile affected by this mistake. Ford also designed a high-end version of the SUV known as the Lincoln MKX, which was equally susceptible to leaking fuel and turning into a fiery explosion. The tank was more likely to corrode when introduced to salt water exposure, including road salt, which caused the danger and the recall to primarily be focused in areas with colder climates, generally in the East Coast.
7 1999-2003 Ford F-Super Duty Diesel
Truck drivers might think bigger is better, and deep down many of them likely believe bigger is safer, in one way or another. Fans of Ford’s F-Super Duty series definitely ascribes to that first philosophy, with the entire purpose of the trucks seemingly being to indulge upon Tim Taylor’s catchphrase from Home Improvement and give consumers “more power.” Of course, the fact the trucks wound up on this list means that despite all that power, they were involved in the massive Ford recall due to their cruise-control deactivation switch causing them to possess a dangerous propensity towards exploding.
The fact all of these explosions are linked to a faulty cruise-control switch could have some readers wondering what the big deal is, considering drivers could just as easily ignore that feature of their car and avoid the problem. Indeed, many drivers did this and were fine. However, there were also reports of the fluid leak occurring when the vehicle wasn’t even running, meaning the mechanism itself didn’t need to be in use to cause the problem. Even in a big, powerful F-Super Duty in which the driver thinks they have total control can burst into flames were that to happen, and if they’re parked in a garage when they do so, a whole lot more can catch fire and disintegrate, as well.
6 2002-2003 Ford Excursion Diesel
Sports utility vehicles are essentially hybrids between vans and trucks, and the Ford Excursion in particular had all the power of a F-Super Duty with the interior space of a Ford Econoline to make room for a whole family and whatever equipment they were carrying with them on their travels. The Excursion was therefore based on the F-Super Duty model, and likewise had the same cruise-control deactivation switch as most other Ford vehicles on this list, meaning it was equally prone to explosion as all of those vehicles were, too.
Because the problem with all of these cars wasn’t with an essential motor function, but rather an optional cruise-control switch, it was actually fairly easy for mechanics to fix. However, it took some time for Ford to diagnose and solve the problem, and as a result they merely instructed vehicle owners to park their cars outside far away from flammable materials between the time a problem was discovered and details were investigated.
5 Ferrari 458 Italia
People who drive Ferraris generally aren’t doing so out of a need for safety and convenience. The 458 Italia came with a $230,000 price tag, though, so consumers had plenty of reasons to believe some general safety standards were considered when their gorgeous and expensive vehicles were being created. As it would turn out, the Ferrari company must have hoped style would win out over substance on this one, because the 458 Italia had a design flaw far more deadly than any cruise-control issues suffered by your average consumer Ford.
It’s somewhat of a scientific miracle that cars don’t explode far more often than they do, considering the amount of heat and gasoline that goes in to even the simplest drive. Car manufacturers need to be extremely careful not to let the wrong parts of the car overheat, lest they wind up like the 458 Italia, which placed the heat-shield assemblies too close to the engine, causing the very thing meant to prevent the heat from spreading to deform. The units were also near the exhaust system, which could just as easily generate enough heat to cause the entire car to catch fire and explode. Ferrari recalled 303 Italias in September of 2010 as a result.
4 1984 Pontiac Fiero
Although this list in and of itself may give the impression that thousands of cars are exploding every day, the reality is that most of them merely had the potential to explode, and were recalled before any serious string of accidents was ever reported. The Pontiac Fiero is a special case, as the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration claimed 135 drivers reported engine fires in one year alone, and 122 of them happened while the car was driving. While this only makes for .036% of the Fiero’s in existence at that time, the number is still significantly higher than normal, especially considering the drivers were never at fault for the fires in any way.
The issue was later discovered to be a failure of the connecting rod caused by the engine not having enough oil, although the exact threshold for “enough oil” was never made entirely clear. A faulty radiator hose was also complicit, creating a particularly dangerous situation and a high probability for explosion. Politician Ralph Nader began spreading the word that Fiero’s were particularly dangerous and prone to fires, and before long, General Motors admitted he was right by recalling some 244,000 vehicles in conjunction with the news.
3 Ford Crown Victoria Police Interceptor
Environmental factors didn’t play too heavily into this list, but there is one car where the type of people driving them plays a big role in how prone to explosion they have been since being introduced in the late 1970s. As the name would imply, Ford Crown Victoria Police Interceptors have been one of the most common brands of cop cars in the United States and Canada since they were introduced, peaking in prevalence during the late 90s. Crown Vics started to slightly wane in popularity in recent years, partially due to a reputation they gradually gained over the fact they were apparently more flammable than a car meant for this line of work than most people felt they should be.
Police get into dangerous situations all the time, including high speed chases that can end in horrific car crashes. Even if the cops themselves are entirely safe and act with heroic instincts in whatever motorized maneuverings they attempt, other drivers may not be so lucky, and plenty of cop cars have been rear ended as a result. Unfortunately, the Crown Vic was designed to feature a gas tank behind the rear axle, meaning it takes the brunt of the impact on any high speed collision. High impact car crashes result in sparks flying, and when that happens directly above the gas tank, massive explosions are bound to happen. Explosions like this can only happen through accidents, and thus aren’t as dangerous as some of the others on this list. Nonetheless, given the fact cops live generally perilous lives, and don’t really have any say in the type of car they drive, Crown Vic’s remain a deadly and frightening vehicle you probably don’t want to drive.
2 1995-2003 Ford Windstar
The Ford recall claimed millions of cars of different makes and models, as this list has repeatedly proved, and the most affected of the lot was the Ford Windstar. In 2009 alone, 1.1 million Windstar minivans were recalled, all due to internal leaking related to the cruise-control deactivation switch problem we repeatedly covered. How exactly Ford went so long without realizing this horrendous design flaw that caused dozens of cars to explode and put millions of drivers at danger is unclear.
The cruise-control mechanism was responsible for the main problem with the Ford vehicles, but it actually wasn’t the sole culprit of the fire hazards. The issue with the mechanism was that it could leak fluid, and even vehicles without cruise-control occasionally had other switches with brake fluid routed through them, which in turn could leak and cause fires the same as the infamous cruise-control switch. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration would in fact say a variety of factors were to blame for the fires, and Texas Instruments used the claim to deflect culpability when prompted for a comment.
1 Ford Pinto
The PR division of The Ford Motor Company went through absolute hell for over 10 years when car after truck after minivan after SUV all literally came under fire for their undue potential towards explosion. Amazingly, this wasn’t even the worst disaster in Ford history, as the company already went through a similar ordeal in the late 1970s when they introduced the infamous Ford Pinto.
Volkswagen had recently achieved great success with their subcompact cars, and Ford wanted to get in on the trend, rushing the Pinto into production as a result. A fatal flaw resulted, in that the gas tank was only 9 inches away from the rear axle, and the car was therefore extremely vulnerable to explosion from even a minor fender bender. Political activist Ralph Nader and writers of Mother Jones magazine underwent serious efforts to disseminate this information into the public, and a recall of 1.5 million cars followed in 1978. The damage to its reputation done, the Ford Pinto was off the market entirely by 1980, and is remembered today merely as a horrifying joke on the American auto market.
Sources: Washington Post, Mother Nature Network, Palm Beach Post, Auto Trader, Consumer Affairs, The New York Times
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