The automotive industry is known for its innovation and cutting-edge technology, but every once in a while, a design flaw can slip through the cracks, causing major headaches for car owners and manufacturers alike. From faulty airbags to dangerous ignition switches, these flaws have had serious consequences for both drivers and automakers. Let's take a look at some of the most notorious design flaws in the car world's history.

Ford Pinto's Explosive Fuel Tank

In the 1970s, the Ford Pinto gained infamy for its dangerously flawed fuel tank design. The placement of the fuel tank behind the rear axle resulted in a high risk of puncture during rear-end collisions, which could lead to deadly explosions. Ford's decision to calculate the cost of potential lawsuits versus the cost of redesigning the fuel tank drew widespread criticism and legal action. This design flaw tarnished Ford's reputation and led to significant financial and legal repercussions for the company.

Chevrolet Corvair's Unsafe Handling

The Chevrolet Corvair, produced in the 1960s, experienced significant backlash due to its controversial design flaw in its suspension system. The rear-engine, rear-wheel-drive layout, combined with the swing-axle rear suspension, resulted in unpredictable handling and an increased risk of rollovers. Consumer advocate Ralph Nader famously criticized the Corvair in his book "Unsafe at Any Speed," bringing widespread attention to the design flaw and ultimately influencing safety regulations in the automotive industry.

Toyota's Unintended Acceleration

Toyota faced a major crisis in the late 2000s and early 2010s when numerous reports emerged of unintended acceleration in several models, leading to a series of high-profile accidents and fatalities. The design flaw was traced back to faulty electronic throttle control systems, which caused the vehicles to accelerate uncontrollably. Toyota faced immense public scrutiny, recalls, and legal action, ultimately resulting in a tarnished reputation and a significant financial hit for the company.

Takata Airbag Inflators

The Takata airbag inflator debacle has been one of the most widespread and deadly design flaws in recent memory. The flaw, which affected millions of vehicles from various manufacturers, involved defective airbag inflators that could explode and shower occupants with shrapnel upon deployment. This flaw resulted in numerous injuries and fatalities, leading to massive recalls and the eventual bankruptcy of Takata. The widespread impact of this design flaw has led to significant changes in safety regulations and oversight within the automotive industry.

General Motors' Faulty Ignition Switches

In the early 2010s, General Motors faced a major scandal when it was revealed that millions of its vehicles contained defective ignition switches. The flaw could cause the ignition to inadvertently switch off while driving, disabling crucial systems such as power steering and airbags. This design flaw resulted in numerous accidents and fatalities, as well as widespread public outrage and legal action against the company. General Motors faced substantial financial penalties and legal settlements as a result of this egregious oversight.

Volkswagen's Diesel Emissions Scandal

Volkswagen shocked the world in 2015 when it was revealed that the company had intentionally installed software in its diesel vehicles to cheat emissions tests. The software enabled the vehicles to produce lower emissions during testing, while in real-world driving conditions, they emitted harmful pollutants well above legal limits. The scandal had far-reaching consequences, including massive recalls, legal settlements, and a damaged reputation for Volkswagen. The company faced significant financial penalties and the resignation of top executives as a result of this deliberate and widespread design flaw.


The automotive industry is no stranger to design flaws, and the consequences of these oversights can be catastrophic. From deadly fuel tank placements to intentional emissions cheating, these design flaws have had wide-ranging impacts on both car owners and manufacturers. As technology continues to advance and safety standards evolve, it is critical for automakers to prioritize thorough testing and rigorous design processes to avoid the occurrence of such notorious design flaws in the future.

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