Ford Pinto
Ford Pinto Let’s start things off with perhaps the most iconic dangerous American car of all time. Produced from the 1971 to 1980 model years, the Pinto’s fuel tank was placed between the rear axle and rear bumper, which meant that crashes to the back end of the car tended to result in…explosions. After multiple deaths and serious injuries due to this tendency, over a hundred lawsuits hit Ford, and the company was forced in 1978 to apply what was then the largest automotive recall in history. Shutterstock
Chevrolet Corvair
Chevrolet Corvair Just as important in the history of automotive safety is the Chevrolet Corvair. Thanks to a design that kept the rear wheels perpendicular to the car rather than the road, the Corvair was liable to experience truly awful and dangerous handling issues, spinning out of control on routine turns. It became the main focus of Ralph Nader’s pioneering 1965 book, Unsafe at Any Speed. That book led directly to the founding of the Department of Transportation. Shutterstock
Ford Bronco II
Ford Bronco II From 1984 to 1990—these are all model years rather than calendar years—Ford sold the Ford Bronco II, an SUV based on the Ranger pickup truck. It’s estimated that the Bronco II caused about 260 deaths due to the truck’s tendency to roll over, far more than any other vehicle sold at the time. Allegedly, Ford refused to even perform certain tests, like the J-test, because doing so in the Bronco II might endanger test drivers. Eventually, insurance companies outright stopped even covering the car; Ford ended up paying over $2 billion in lawsuit settlements. Wikipedia
Ford Explorer
Ford Explorer The iconic harbinger of the SUV era, the not-quite-a-truck that became a favorite of suburban parents nationwide, the Ford Explorer was an unusually deadly car in its early years. With about 240 deaths attributed to rollover problems with the Explorer, it was discovered that the tread of Firestone tires would sometimes separate while the Explorer was driving. This led to lawsuits, the firing of the CEOs of both Ford and Firestone, and Congressional investigations. Shutterstock
Pontiac Fiero
Pontiac Fiero The Fiero, a sporty two-door coupe from the mid-1980s, actually did fairly well in safety tests prior to its release. But it had a bizarre tendency to catch fire, and the reason is not entirely known. It’s generally believed that there was an issue with a batch of faulty, weak connection rods. When the car ran low on oil, the rods would break, putting the remaining oil directly in contact with the hot engine—and thus, fire. It’s kind of a bummer, because the Fiero was actually a cool car. The thing had speakers in its headrests! Wikimedia
DeLorean DMC
DeLorean DMC The DeLorean DMC—usually referred to as just “the DeLorean,” as it was the only car the company ever made—needs no real introduction. But those iconic gullwing doors had electrical issues and could sometimes trap a driver inside, very bad news in a crash. And a DeLorean that flipped on its roof would have no way to open the doors even if they did work. Wikimedia
Ford Model T
Ford Model T This one isn’t completely fair; it’s not like there were safety boards and standards and regulation to ensure safe vehicles when the Model T debuted in 1908. It wasn’t even necessarily more dangerous than any car that arose during its heyday. But these things are crazy by modern standards. A handcranked starter that could break an arm, non-safety glass for windshields and windows, no seatbelts, a gas tank directly below the driver, and one modern Model T owner even noted: “the nut in the middle of the steering wheel lines up perfectly with your teeth.” Shutterstock
Chevrolet Corvette
Chevrolet Corvette Studies have found that the quintessential American sports car has caused more deaths per 10,000 cars than any other for several designs, like this 1985-1987 ‘Vette. The Corvette has its share of recalls and issues, but isn’t generally considered a fundamentally dangerous car, the way the Pinto is. Instead, the car’s reputation as a vehicle to be driven as fast as possible seems to be enticing owners to drive less safely. Shutterstock
Chevrolet Cobalt
Chevrolet Cobalt The Cobalt, a humble and extremely boring compact sedan produced in the mid-2000s, has no right to be as dangerous as it is. But the car was beset with various issues. Faulty ignition systems would literally turn the car off while driving, causing 13 deaths and a $35 million fine for not dealing with the problem, even while Chevy was fully aware of it. Power steering would break; a fuel leak would cause the car to smell like gasoline. In terms of ambition to awfulness, truly one of the worst cars in American history. Wikipedia
GMC Terrain
GMC Terrain Of modern cars, the GMC Terrain, GMC’s smallest SUV, has the worst death ratings according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Between 2012 and 2015, writes WXYZ, the Terrain caused 53 deaths per million cars, the most of any SUV. It ranks poorly in single-car, multi-car, and rollover accidents. Wikipedia
Ford Crown Victoria Police Car
Ford Crown Victoria Police Car While the classic Crown Vic has a reputation for utility and roominess (and, in some cases, surprising performance), the 1992 through 2011 model, essentially unchanged, had one very bad defect. Thanks to the specific design of the bolts holding the gas tank in place, the tank was liable to be punctured in rear-end collisions, causing roaring fires. And because Crown Vics are driven by police, they’re much more likely to be in those sorts of accidents: the very nature of the job is dangerous, and police often have to park much closer to traffic than non-police ever would. Wikipedia
Dodge Neon
Chrysler/Dodge/Plymouth Neon Despite being one of the few cars to be branded with three separate makes, the Neon—a small, light, chintzy 1990s and 2000s car—was a disaster from a safety perspective. Here’s a quote from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety in 2005: “The Neon has ‘major problems beginning with its structure. This car is a disaster,’ Lund says. ‘The structure is poor, and both dummies’ heads were hit by the barrier during the crash test. High forces were recorded on the head, torso, and pelvis of the driver dummy. If this had been a real driver in a real crash, it’s likely it wouldn’t have been survivable.’” It was also found to be responsible for among the highest number of deaths per million vehicles of any car in its class. Wikipedia