Every year car companies around the world put billions of dollars into researching and designing cars that we, the consumer, will want to buy. A lot of time and money goes into designing how a car looks, how it handles and the type of drivetrain which will power it. For most people, the looks or practicality of a vehicle is what sells them. For others, the performance or rarity of a particular car attracts them. Everyone has their own reasons as to why they select a particular vehicle when the time comes.
Naturally, safety is a big concern for most drivers. The last thing you want to be strapped into while heading down the highway is a deathtrap with known weaknesses and faulty design and construction. Personal safety and the safety of your family has only increased as a selling point for vehicles over the last few decades. Various safety ratings are often highlighted in ads and commercials to the point that engine performance and styling now take a back seat to how many stars a certain car gets in head-on and side collisions.
The following list takes a look at automotive safety and specifically some of the more dangerous or deadly cars that have been built over the years. As you’ll see, there are a mix of reasons as to why certain cars are considered ‘unsafe.’ Perhaps it’s a bad design feature built into the car. Maybe there is a faulty part that makes the vehicle deadly to its owner. Or, maybe a particular car is deemed deadly for no mechanical or design reason but because the people who drive it tend to get themselves killed at an alarming rate. In any event, the following cars are some of the more well-known or prolific models which graced the roads and garages at some point in the past several decades.
12 Chinese Cars
Starting off this list isn’t just one car, but a group of death-traps produced by an ever growing Chinese automotive industry. Since none of us in North America (and very few in Europe) will ever ride in or see one of these cars we figured we’d cover a few of them briefly.
While Chinese cars are improving in quality, thanks largely to partnerships with European car manufacturers, there have been some terribly unsafe creations over the past several years. The Chery Amulet, for instance, crumpled like a piece of paper in crash tests and crash-test dummies had to be disassembled to be removed from the wreckage. The Geely CK followed on this tradition and received a 0 rating when it came to safety. In terms of luxury cars, you’d expect bigger equals safer. This was not the case with the Brilliance BS6 which when crashed at just 64 km/h saw the steering wheel, dash and even the tires pushed into the front-seat occupants.
11 Toyota Yaris
Over the past several years, the rise in gas prices, insurance and basically anything associated with driving has led many people to look for smaller and cheaper alternatives when it comes to automobiles. This means a glut of small and economical cars has flooded the market. Turns out that these smaller cars, while saving you money, are far more dangerous than ‘regular’ sized vehicles. Topping the list is the Toyota Yaris. A study done by the insurance industry a few years ago showed that the tiny Toyota was #1 in personal injury claims with 28.5 per 1000 cars on the road. What’s the primary cause of injury in this case? Turns out that when you make a car this small, no matter how good the safety technology, there is ultimately less room between you and what you’re hitting.
10 DeLorean DMC-12
The gull-winged DeLorean is best known as the iconic vehicle-turned time machine in the 1980s Back to the Future films. Underpowered, unconventional looking and built with stainless steel, the DMC-12 was very different from anything else on the road. Unfortunately, this iconic vehicle was doomed from the start. Poor sales and a drug-sting involving the company’s owner, John DeLorean, all signaled the end. It also didn’t help that the DMC-12 was not the safest vehicle around. If the car ever crashed or rolled over, there was every chance the gull-wing doors would not open. Unlike companies, such as Mercedes, DeLorean opted not to use any sort of safety-release mechanism for the doors should the car flip. Matters were made worse by the fact the windows were far too small to be used as an escape route. Get trapped in this car and you had to wait for rescuers or a worse ending.
9 Pontiac Fiero
A popular vehicle for kit-car manufacturers, the Pontiac Fiero was sold from 1984 to 1988. At the time, the Fiero was a big deal for the North American market because it was a two-seater with a mid-mounted engine. It may not look the part, but this small and nimble car was actually one of the safest cars when it came to collision testing. In fact, only Volvo ranked higher at the time. That said, the 1984 Fiero gave this brand a reputation for bursting into flames which has plagued it since. A combination of poor design and misprints led to engine and/or coolant failures which turned this little guy into a fireball. Engine oil capacity was 4.5 quarts but the manual incorrectly stated 3 quarts leading to under-filling of the engine. Low oil could (and did) result in failure which broke the engine and leaked oil onto the exhaust leading to a fire. Faulty wiring and poorly placed coolant lines further worsened the issue with Pontiac claiming 260 incidences of engine fires.
8 Audi 5000
Today we all think of Audi as well-built, stylish AWD cars which leave us crying when it comes time for costly servicing or repairs. In the mid-1980s, Audi had a different reputation. From 1983 to 1987, Audi sales dropped in North America thanks to reports that their cars were accelerating on their own. The Audi 5000 was at the heart of this issue. This specific car had a faulty system which controlled engine idle. According to Audi, the sudden rev of the engine wasn’t enough to really be dangerous, but the overreaction of the driver to the sudden change led to accidents. No doubt, drivers panicked when their 5000s jumped ahead, often stomping their foot down accidentally on the accelerator making a bad problem worse. In total, 700 accidents and six deaths resulted from this model’s failure.
7 Ford Bronco II
From 1983 to 1990 Ford produced the Bronco II as its contribution to the growing small-SUV market. The Bronco II was built on the Ford Ranger body and shared many parts and engines with the pick-up truck. All-in-all, it was a versatile vehicle and generally liked except for one major drawback – it was notorious for rolling over in tight turns. Thanks to a flawed suspension and top-heavy design, investigations demonstrated that the Bronco II was prone to rolling when turning at speed. In 1987 alone, 43 people were killed when their Bronco II rolled over. Ford refused to implement any safety changes and opted to put money into legal resolutions which they deemed cheaper than redesigning the SUV.
6 Ford Explorer
It’s no coincidence the Ford Explorer follows the Bronco II on this list. From 1990 to 1995 the Explorer shared many similarities in design and build with the defunct Bronco II. Reportedly, Ford knew their new vehicle continued to face high roll-over rates like the old Bronco, but opted not to alter the suspension or design to compensate. To solve any potential problems related to stability, the answer was to lower the pressure in the tires. This caused a whole new set of problems as the Firestone tires used by Ford started to de-tread, leading to loss of control and more roll-overs. In the end, although exact figures are not agreed upon, at least dozens of people were killed or injured when their Explorers rolled. Don’t own an Explorer? It doesn’t matter. Research shows that if you get into a collision with one of these Fords, you are 16 times more likely to die than if it was another SUV.
5 Yugo GV
Anyone who owned one of these little cars during the 1980s and early 1990s was often the butt of many jokes. That’s because the Yugo was probably one of the worst all-round cars built in modern times. Yes, it was cheap and for around $4000 you got what you paid for. It had a reported top speed of 85mph, although the engine would likely break before it got that high, especially if you hadn’t changed the belts every 40,000km. The build quality was poor with cheap materials and bad wiring plaguing the car from the very beginning. Also, if it wasn’t calm and sunny out, the Yugo was best left at home. One lady in Michigan found this out when her Yugo was blown off a bridge thanks to a 55mph gust.
4 Chevrolet Corvair
While it doesn’t look the part today, the Chevy Corvair was considered a compact car in the 1960s. It was unusual in that it used a rear-mounted, air-cooled engine – something people were used to seeing in Porsches and VW Beetles. It also implemented a rear swing arm suspension, similar to that found on the Porsche 911. Unfortunately, most drivers were unfamiliar with the different driving characteristics presented by the engine and suspension changes and encountered significant over-steer when driving the Corvair which could lead to dangerous spin-outs. An investigation by Ralph Nader showed that Chevrolet had opted, for money saving reasons, to omit a front anti roll-bar against the protest of engineers. Further investigation also identified the solid one-piece steering column which could impale drivers in a crash and a faulty heater core which leaked and could fill the cabin with fumes.
3 Ford Pinto
Built from 1971 to 1980, the Ford Pinto was a subcompact car originally built to combat the smaller imports from Europe and Japan. It also benefitted from the 1973 oil embargo which saw people looking for smaller cars which used less gas. By the end of its 10-year production run, over 3 million of these little cars had been sold. There were just a couple problems. First, it used an automatic transmission which was prone to jumping into gear on its own – resulting in the deaths of at least two dozen people. Second, when designing the car, Ford engineers and designers had placed the gas tank just in front of the rear bumper. Thus, any sort of rear-end collision could potentially lead to an explosion or fire. Twenty-seven people were killed as a result of fires from rear-end collisions. Faced with costly redesigns, Ford found it cheaper to pay out settlements in cases of death and injury.
2 Ford Mustang
One of the iconic muscle cars in North America, the Ford Mustang has a long history and faithful following. Sure it’s had some questionable designs and the late 1960s versions could explode thanks to a poorly placed gas tank. However, there is little problem with the overall design in terms of safety. So why is it on this list? Because there are 4.4 deaths per every 10,000 Mustangs on the road. That’s high – The Volvo 740-760 is well under 1. What makes the Mustang so dangerous is that it’s easily available and attainable. As a result, many inexperienced drivers find themselves behind the wheel of (what can be) a relatively powerful RWD car. Add in the testosterone fuelled wanna-be racers and it inevitable helps push this pony up on this list.
1 Chevrolet Corvette
Like the Mustang, the Chevy Corvette is another icon of American automotive history. From the mid-1950s to today, this legendary car continues to be produced and has a devoted following. Over its history it has come with a variety of engines and power which may lead you to think this is an obvious inclusion. Interestingly, it’s the Corvette from the mid-1980s which is one of the most dangerous. To those of you who don’t know, the Corvette from that era was relatively low powered, featuring engines which put out under 250hp. Nevertheless, people still drove them recklessly and lost control. Just the 1985-87 model years alone saw 5.2 fatalities per 10,000 cars. In a world where young males make up most sport car crash statistics, the Corvette stands out thanks to its more ‘mature’ ownership.