A Brief History of Auto Recalls: The Explosive Ford Pinto

Defective vehicles can cause fatalities and injuriesOver the last several decades, auto manufacturers have recalled millions of vehicles for defects. One of the most widely known auto recalls in American history involved the Ford Pinto (specifically models developed between 1971 and 1976). This blog will run you through the history of the Ford Pinto recall and how to ensure your vehicle is safe for use.

The Ford Pinto recall is not one of the largest in American history, but it is one of the scariest. Ford’s Pinto was designed in a way that positioned the fuel tank behind the rear axle and directly in front of the rear bumper. In addition, the fuel tank was positioned next to various bolts from nearby brackets.

When Ford Pintos were involved in car accidents, the fuel tank could rupture or be punctured, causing fuel leaks that led to explosions and fires.

Ford knew about these dangers before releasing the Pinto and had devised plans to correct the defective design by repositioning the fuel tank or installing shielding. However, it would have cost Ford an estimated $113 million to delay the release of the Pinto. Projected personal injury and wrongful death claims were estimated by Ford to be almost $49 million. For those of you who have seen the movie Fight Club, the narrator references a very similar method of reasoning about car companies not initiating a recall if estimated settlements are less than the cost of a recall. Although Fight Club is a fictional movie, auto companies have been guilty of this reasoning.

Ford’s decision not to fix the Pinto before its release led to 27 deaths (this is Ford’s confirmed count—critics estimate the number is much higher). People who survived fires caused by the Pinto’s faulty design suffered serious burn injuries. In 1977, a California jury awarded 13-year-old Richard Grimshaw $125 million in damages after he suffered disfiguring burns while riding as a passenger in a Ford Pinto (the judge reduced this to $3.5 million). The 1972 Ford Pinto Grimshaw was riding in burst into flames during a minor collision.

Testimony given by Ford engineers admitted that 95 percent of the deaths could have been avoided if the Pinto’s design had been fixed before being released.

Why You Should Stay Informed On Auto Recalls

The case of Ford’s Pinto is an example of how companies can place a greater importance on profits than the lives of other people. In present day America, companies are required by law to inform the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) of defects. In addition, companies must inform consumers of recalls.

You can also stay informed on auto recalls by visiting www.safercar.gov, a website operated by NHTSA. Simply type your vehicle identification number (also known as a VIN number) into the website’s search engine for information on recalls.



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