Top 10 Deadliest Vehicles in History
A few of the deadliest vehicles in history are the Ford Bronco, Ford Explorer, and the Suzuki Samurai. No car is perfect, but these vehicles come out on top for number of accidents.
UPDATED: Jan 29, 2021
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- Most adult Americans own at least one vehicle
- We sometimes forget how deadly cars can be
- Many vehicles in history had dangerous defects
- Manufacturers have been found to hide these defects
- Hundreds were injured and killed by deadly defects
- The Bronco II was the deadliest vehicle in history
Since the mid-1900s, automobiles have been one of the fastest growing commodities in our nation. With over 263 million registered vehicles in the U.S. in 2015, it’s common for all family members, ages sixteen and up, to each have their own car.
These days, vehicles aren’t only used to get somewhere. They are used for calming babies, tailgating, rocking out, sleeping in, making out, and the list goes on.
The automobiles of today have become a fundamental part of our everyday lives.
In fact, we don’t give them much thought once that new car smell wears off — until something goes wrong with them. In the event that something goes wrong, make sure you have the right coverage. Start comparison shopping right now!
They are Imperfect
Many manufacturers will be remembered for their mistakes and associated defects, deaths, and civil suits: GM, Firestone, and Ford — just to name a few.
Rather than dig back into the debacles that made news headlines, let’s look at the specific deadliest vehicles in history by make and model. Some vehicles should have never been sold; let alone driven.
Top 10 Deadliest Vehicles in History
This ranking is based on the number of documented accidents, injuries, and deaths these vehicles caused. To create a fair countdown, we focused solely on those statistics. You can insert your own creative assumptions as you continue to read.
Although it wasn’t featured as a category in our ranking of the 10 states with the worst drivers, the dangers of vehicles can have an impact on how safe the roads are in your state and can have an effect on your state’s traffic death rates as well.
This can cause an uptick in your car insurance rates compared to other states, as more people are filing claims, which cost the insurance companies money.
#10 – Pontiac Fiero
Coming in last on our deadliest vehicles countdown but certainly nowhere near safe is the Pontiac Fiero. Its fiberglass side panels and hidden headlights made it the sporty car of the future.
Fortunately, the Fiero was only sold from ‘83 to ‘88 because even in five short years, it managed to wreak some serious havoc. This sporty little two-door ran hot and leaked oil, which caused 260 reported cases of the engine bursting into flames.
Their Plan Backfired
These cases weren’t much of a surprise for those over at Pontiac since their engines caught fire even on test drives. Luckily, the NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) only received reports of six injuries.
Those hundreds of engine fires could have done much worse. Pontiac ended production of the Fiero in ‘88 because they were up in flames with bad reviews.
#9 – Yugo GV
From ‘85-’92 there was a little two door for sale in the U.S. with an odd name that became famous for all the wrong reasons. Ranking 9th for the deadliest vehicles in history is the Yugo GV with no protection in a frontal crash and an engine that rattled and eventually crumbled apart.
The Yugo was said to be as safe as “a tin can on wheels” and was voted on NPR’s Car Talk as “the worst car of the millennium.”
The statistics weren’t any better than the rumors with one of the highest death rates for any car on U.S. roads, over 3.6 occupant deaths for every 10,000 Yugos made.
It Only Got Worse
In addition to its shortcomings in safety, 126,000 Yugo GVs had to be recalled because their carburetor fuel didn’t meet air pollution standards. And just when it seemed things couldn’t get any worse, the Yugo was blamed for a 31-year-old lady’s gruesome death in ‘89.
Reports claim that Leslie Ann Pluhar was driving her Yugo GV across the Mackinac Bridge in Michigan when a 50 mph gust of wind blew her “tin can” clear off the bridge, plummeting her 170 feet to her death. That was the end for the Yugo in the U.S.
#8 – Chevrolet Corvair
Ranking 8th in our countdown for the deadliest cars is the Chevy, once known as the “Poor Man’s Porsche.” Looking back, the “Dead Man’s Porsche” seems more accurate. From ‘60-’63, the Corvair went from loved to loathed rather quickly.
Drivers soon found that steering this car was highly difficult, especially at higher speeds. Chevrolet confirmed something was seriously wrong when they publicized that the Corvair required a drastic tire pressure difference between the front and back tires to avoid dangerous over steering.
The Corvair’s deadly malfunctions were blamed for the highly publicized death of the famous comedian Ernie Kovacs in ‘62. While driving in LA, Kovacs lost control of his Corvair, slammed into a light post, and was flung onto the pavement where he died on impact.
A few years later, Ralph Nader made the Corvair the prime example in his book, “Unsafe at Any Speed,” and Time magazine nominated the Corvair as one of the “50 worst cars ever made.”
General Motors (GM) faced over 100 liability lawsuits, due to Corvair crashes, injuries, and deaths.
#7 – Audi 5000
Unless it’s Herbie “The Love Bug,” your car should not have a mind of its own. Making #7 in our top 10 deadliest vehicles countdown is the Audi 5000, which from 1978 to 1986 caused 660 accidents.
This model of the Audi had “magical powers,” unlike any vehicle before it. There are 1,380 incidents of this vehicle shifting into gear and even accelerating on its own, leaving anyone in or around it at its will.
Too Little Too Late
After four years and many accidents, Volkswagen (VW) recalled what they deemed to be faulty floor mats. When new floor mats didn’t help, the automatic shifting and accelerating were finally addressed.
After far too many people were put in danger, VW paid to have safety locks added to all the 5000s on the market to prevent the treacherous auto-drive from continuing to happen. These shift locks are now mandatory for all vehicles on the market today.
#6 – Ford Pinto
Getting sixth place in our deadliest vehicle countdown is a small car from the 70s that earned the title “a barbecue that seats four.” The Ford Pinto could do a lot more than just get you from place to place; it could jump into gear on its own and even burst into flames without much effort.
The Pinto’s gas tank was built too far back on the vehicle, so even in a low-impact collision, it would instantly explode. In the mid-to-late-70s, the Pinto killed 24 people with its gear-hopping defect and 27 with its gas tank explosions.
Their Secret Cost Lives
As if this saga isn’t bad enough, it gets worse: Ford knew about the defects in the Pinto design long before all those innocent people lost their lives.
There is documented proof that after a cost/safety analysis, Ford determined they would rather risk the 180 fatalities than pay the measly $11 per Pinto to fix the deadly defects. We should be able to expect better from an American company.
#5 – Toyota Yaris
Making our top five for deadliest vehicles in history is the second generation Toyota Yaris, a little two-door hatchback that caused some severe damage. In just five years, from ‘05 to ‘10, the Yaris caused 89 deaths due primarily to unintended acceleration, although that was far from its only defect.
The Yaris also had wiring issues that disabled the airbags, the driver’s seat moved spontaneously while the car was in motion, the frame didn’t provide the driver enough protection, and the seatbelt pads were catching fire in crashes.
The Highway Loss Data Institute determined that the Yaris was #1 in personal injury claims with 28.5 for every 1,000 Yaris vehicles the industry insured.
Recalls and Lawsuits
A total of 8.5 million Yaris vehicles were recalled worldwide due to these fatal defects. Countless lawsuits have been filed in response to the deaths, injuries, and accidents caused by the Yaris, but the most notorious case was the wrongful death suit filed in 2007 by a mother who lost her daughter.
21-year-old Tyrene was on her way to a graduate class when her ‘07 Yaris suddenly accelerated and launched across four lanes of traffic and then down an embankment where it crashed into trees and instantly killed her.
With over 450 cases of unintended acceleration and more than $1.2 billion paid by Toyota in lawsuit settlements, the Yaris certainly made history in more ways than one.
#4 – Chevrolet Cobalt
Ranking 4th in our countdown is the Chevy Cobalt, which managed to kill 124 people and seriously injure 274 more.
The IIHS (Insurance Institute for Highway Safety) rated the Cobalt’s side airbags “Poor” and reported the ‘05-‘08 models to have the highest fatality rate out of all the cars in its class, 117 for every 1 million registered.
The Cobalt’s low safety rating and high fatality rate were followed by many recalls: in ‘07 for inadequate trim padding, in ‘10 for power steering problems, and in ‘12 for fuel leaks. In addition to all that, the Cobalt had faulty switches that would cut the engine’s power while in motion and deactivate the airbags — a true recipe for disaster.
Forced to Fix Things
The faulty switches made national news in ‘09 when a young girl’s brand new Cobalt suddenly shut down, leaving her without control of her vehicle. With no airbags to protect her, a 25-year-old died suddenly when she crashed into a tree.
Even after that gruesome death, GM denied building vehicles with defective switches until ‘14, when they were forced to recall 700,000 of their Cobalts.
GM has faced over 4,237 legal claims for wrongful deaths and injuries from Cobalt users alone, and the NHTSA fined them $35 million for failing to recall their deadly vehicles for almost a decade.
#3 – Suzuki Samurai
In 1985, an SUV came over to the U.S. from Japan, and we were intrigued. Unfortunately, its rugged, sporty look didn’t match its driving capabilities, and the top-heavy Samurais soon became known for their “death wobble.”
When the ‘88 Consumer Report was published saying the Samurai “easily rolls over in turns,” its sales dropped drastically. Even though the Samurai had a bad reputation and wasn’t sold in the states for long, it still did a lot of damage — causing 213 deaths and 8,200 injuries from ‘86 to ‘95.
Sorry Not Sorry
Suzuki had to settle over 200 wrongful death and injury lawsuits, but the company proved unapologetic when they sued Consumer Reports for that bad (but accurate) review.
Ironically, that lawsuit only made them look worse. While collecting evidence, an internal memo from a Suzuki employee surfaced that read:
“It is imperative that we develop a crisis plan that will primarily deal with the ‘roll’ factor. Because of the narrow wheelbase, similar to the Jeep, the car is bound to turn over.”
Luckily for Suzuki, they had already pulled the Samurai out of North America when this memo surfaced, or it would have been a lot more damaging to them.
#2 – Ford Explorer
Unfortunately, we can’t be proud of everything built in America.
Ranking 2nd for the deadliest vehicle in history is the Ford Explorer, that from ‘90-’04, caused 330 deaths and over 3,000 injuries.
Ford built the Explorer with the same suspension and Firestone tires as they did their Ranger truck that weighed 600 pounds less. As expected, the Explorer was unstable with a high tendency to roll over.
The Firestone tire tread separations and the Explorer’s unusually high rollover rate made for a detrimental duo. Both companies’ reputations were tarnished, and the fallout brought an end to the Ford/Firestone 97-year partnership.
The controversy lives on, but whether the tires or the frame are more to blame, the Ford Explorer was undoubtedly one of the deadliest cars in history. Statistics show that from ‘90-‘02, people driving the Explorer were 16 times more likely to die in a collision than in any other SUV.
#1 – Ford Bronco II
It is disconcerting that the top two deadliest vehicles in history were made back-to-back by the same company. With a tendency to pop up to just two wheels on even slow turns, the Bronco II was quickly referred to as “The Bucking Bronco.”
A (Deadly) Privilege
Even with those hundreds of deaths and poor ratings, Ford stated that it was a privilege to drive one of the first small SUVs and that rolling over was a common risk when driving one.
No Bronco IIs were ever recalled. Thankfully, Ford stopped production of the Bronco in 1990 when they began making the Explorer. But we all know how well the early Explorers did.
The deadliest things in the world don’t always appear deadly.
Many of these vehicles looked awesome and were raved about until their hidden defects showed their ugly faces and started killing people.
Yes, the Yugo blew a lady off a bridge and the Corvair killed a famous comedian, but some of the deadliest defects in history just caused regular-looking accidents. Driver error was thought to be the cause until that same make and model were in many more similar accidents.
Sometimes, many years go by before trends are realized, defects are discovered, blame is placed on the manufacturer, and the following question arises: How long did they know??
A lot can go wrong while driving. Make sure you and your loved ones have the best car insurance coverage around. Enter your zip code to see what’s available in your area!