The Most Outrageous Auto Maker Scandals Ever

The massive automotive scandal involving German car-making giant Volkswagen is among the biggest in recent memory, but it’s hardly the first time an automaker was found to be skirting the law or misleading its consumers. While Volkswagen has received intense scrutiny for finagling a passing grade on emissions tests for its cars, it’s only the latest in a long line of automotive blunders. Here’s a look at some of history’s most notorious car manufacturer scandals.

The PR Nightmare That Was the Ford Pinto

In the late 1970s, an exposé was published that made the assertion that the Ford Motor Company knowingly marketed the Pinto while knowing that it was inherently dangerous and prone to catching fire. The feature claimed that, rather than correct the faulty fuel system that caused the explosions, Ford continued to manufacture and market the Pinto to unsuspecting consumers. Fueling the fire, so to speak, was a memo uncovered by the same publication that showed that Ford feared it would lose millions of dollars if it were to repair its flawed cars.

Audi Out of Control Acceleration

The current crop of Audi cars are among the most desirable vehicles in America, but it’s no thanks to a 1986 scandal that started when a national news program ran a story claiming the company’s cars were rapidly accelerating on their own. Videos used in the broadcast showed Audi cars leaping forward on their own accord. These videos were later determined to be manipulated, but Audi still paid the price in the form of plummeting sales and escalating lawsuits.

The Ford and Firestone Tire Fear Machine

Long after the Pinto PR crisis died down, Ford was hit in May 2000 with another wave of bad press after four deaths were linked to Ford automobiles fitted with Firestone tires. Rumors began circulating that the Ford Explorer was prone to rollover crashes when fitted with Firestone’s tires because the tires were prone to rapid and sudden tread separation. An additional investigation into the case revealed that more than 100 people actually died due to the Ford/Firestone tire combination. In the end, 6.5 million tires were recalled by Firestone, with an additional 13 million taken back by Ford.

While the Volkswagen case will be added to a long list of wrong turns made by major automakers, it likely won’t be the last to make headlines. When not just money, but lives are on the line, the public is unlikely to look the other way.

This article was written with help from the experts at WheelKraft NW in Portland. Find more posts like this on their blog here.