The Top 7 Most Dangerous Cars

November 16, 2008

When you’re driving, it’s very easy to take your safety for granted and subconsciously assume that you’re infallible inside a massive steel shell. Truth is, it only takes a split second to really jack up your day. If you happen to get into that sort of a situation, you don’t want to find yourself suddenly regretting the rationale behind that bargain you got on your car. You’ll want to avoid the 7 most dangerous cars ever built.

7. Chery Amulet    

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To say Chinese safety standards aren’t quite up to par with the western world’s would be laughable. The Chery brand is basically China’s answer to GM, and the Amulet shown here is already being sold within China, Russia and many other countries throughout Asia, despite the fact that it received less than a 1 star rating by EuroNCAP testing standards when reviewed by the Russian car magazine Autoreview. They reported that the test dummy actually had to be dismantled in order to remove it from the car.

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Chery’s larger model, the Brilliance, is attempting to enter American markets but, not surprisingly, it’s having a little difficulty with the US safety standards. Incidentally, that crash test is at 40mph.

6. Chevrolet Corvair

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In 1965, Ralph Nader published a book titled Unsafe at Any Speed, in which he outlined the ways in which auto manufactures cut corners and made decisions based upon profit vs. safety. The first chapter of the book is devoted to Chevy’s Corvair, and is subtitled the “One Accident Car” due to the fact that the Corvair’s unconventional rear-engine and suspension design caused a need for tire inflatation beyond all tolerance levels at the time, which could fail at high speeds.

Officially safety standards indicated that, when the tires were inflated to GM’s specifications, they were actually overloaded and prone to failure if two or more people rode in the car. While GM eventually made suspension modifications (available as an option) to correct these issues, the revelations of Nader‘s book, and the release of the infinitely more awesome Chevorlet Camaro in 1967, effectively killed the Corvair.

5. Audi 5000

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A great deal of controversy surrounds the 1982-1991 Audi 100, sold as the 5000 in the US for a time, until the Audi 5000 became synonymous with cars that randomly accelerate from a complete stop with no input from the driver.

Audi was flooded with complaints from owners of sudden acceleration forward or backward when cars equipped with the automatic transmission were put into gear from park, resulting in scores of injuries and deaths. Audi took the line that these issues were due to “operator error” - basically telling their customers they were too stupid to understand the difference between a brake pedal and a gas pedal - but issued several different and massive recalls anyway.

When the CBS program 60 Minutes ran a story about the 5000’s problems, sales plummeted to the point at which Audi eventually recalled over a quarter million cars, and subsequently ditched the “5000” model name altogether, going back the 100 name from which the car originated. Operator error, faulty cruise control system - whatever, I think it’s fair to say this car is kinda dodgy.

4. Ford Bronco II

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In 1989, after another vehicle (which we’ll cover next) clued people in to the idea that vehicles with a high center of gravity (such as SUVs) are prone to rollover in high speed turning situations, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration opened up a formal investigation of the Bronco II after more than 40 rollover fatalities were reported in 1987 alone.

Although the rollover rate was higher than other similar SUVs, the NHTSA eventually closed the case, despite continued rollover issues. Additionally, a suspension design defect was discovered that actually served to worsen the rollover issue, a flaw which some circles claim was documented by Ford before the Bronco II even came to the market, but was ignored because of the cost involved with redesigning the suspension system. Eventually, the Bronco II was replaced with the Explorer, which went on to have its own share of rollover issues, though the tire manufacture, Firestone, bore the responsibility for that problem.

3. Suzuki Samuari

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Beyond just about any other model, the Suzuki Samurai was the vehicle that brought attention to the rollover issues that have plagued SUVs since day one. While any vehicle with a high center of gravity and a comparably narrow width is liable to a rollover in high speed maneuvering, a test by Consumer Reports brought the focus onto the Samurai as a vehicle which “easily rolls over in turns” during sudden swerve conditions (such as avoiding an accident).

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Suzuki ended up suing Consumer Reports for damaging its reputation by using the term “easily,” but never claimed that the statements about rolling over during sharp turning were inaccurate.

2. Ford Pinto

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In the simplest terms, the Pinto was a poorly designed car with a fatal flaw – rear impacts could cause the gas tank to ignite or explode. And in such collisions, due to poor reinforcement of the frame, the doors could jam shut, turning the car into a true deathtrap. But that wasn’t the worst part of the Pinto story.

Internal memos within Ford indicate that the company was aware that the gas tank problem was obviously a serious danger to consumers, but decided it would be cheaper to pay off lawsuits from resulting deaths than it would be to do the necessary modifications to remedy the problem, according to an internal Ford cost-benefit analysis memo published by Mother Jones magazine. After the Pinto was subject to public scrutiny and many lawsuits, Ford ended up issuing a recall which added some plastic pieces to cover sharp objects near the gas tank. Certainly not Ford’s finest hour.

1. Chevrolet Corvette

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Honestly, I could have put nearly any high powered coupe in place of the ‘Vette here. It falls into that second group we mentioned earlier – the cars that are dangerous because of their abilities and the mentality of some of their drivers. Indeed, by the Institute for Highway Safety statistics, the Corvette is the deadliest car you can buy.

Why? Well, it doesn’t have much to do with design, actually. It’s because it’s fast, small, relatively cheap, and commonly purchased by over-zealous speed freaks. It’s followed closely behind by the Camaro, which is basically a cheaper, but slower, version of a Corvette-type sport coupe, as the deadliest car on the road.

It’s a sobering reminder that, while some cars are safer than others, it really all comes down to the actions of the people driving the cars that determine how safe we all are on the road.

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