Home Cars Driving Dangers: The Most Unsafe Cars On The Road At Any Speed

Driving Dangers: The Most Unsafe Cars On The Road At Any Speed

Cameron Eittreim February 6, 2023

Cars and trucks are some of the deadliest things humans use on a daily basis, and most drivers don’t even realize that. But automotive design and safety have come a long way in the past few decades. However, there have been extremely unsafe cars, even with modern safety enhancements. During the 1990s, SUVs were a hot-button issue and the Isuzu Trooper was at the forefront of the discussion as the worst.

The Ford Explorer was also the subject of intense controversy in the early 2000s due to explosions and rollover incidents. Looking back a few decades, the Chevrolet Corvair was so bad that a congressman named Ralph Nader penned a book about it titled “Unsafe At Any Speed”. We looked back through the decades and found some of the most unsafe cars on the road. You’ll want to avoid these rides, so find out just which model they are right here.

Chevrolet Vega GT
Photo Credit: GM

Chevrolet Vega

The Vega was known for “literally” being a rust bucket as it started rusting as soon as the driver left the dealership. But the Vega was also a very unsafe car with a poor crash test rating and build quality. The engine design was the poorest ever made out of GM, with everything from piston scuffing to head gasket failure (via Motor Trend).

Chevrolet Vega GT
Photo Credit: Cars and Bids

There’s no denying the Vega was rushed onto the market. The real question was how did GM get away with it for so long? There was an onslaught of new compact cars that hit the market during this period, and the Vega was one of them. But between poor build quality and limited reliability, the Vega was an awful car.

Photo Credit: Bring a Trailer

Ford Pinto

The Pinto was a big deal when it was first released because it was one of the first domestic compact cars available. With the new fuel regulations and emissions, automakers had to adjust quickly. Particularly domestic automakers, who had to compete with new competition from Honda and Toyota (via Reiff Law Firm).

Photo Credit: Edmunds

The initial reviews for the Pinto were great until reports of fiery crashes started coming into the picture. The problem was the location of the rear gas tank, which when hit at the right angle caused the Pinto to burst into flames. The car was not only the butt of late-night jokes but also cost Ford almost a billion dollars in lawsuits.

Photo Credit: Car Gurus

Audi 5000

The title for the most unsafe car on the road is crowded because there were many failures. But perhaps one of the most surprising failures was the Audi 5000. You’ll seldom hear about Audi building a questionable vehicle. Especially considering the 5000 was released during the company’s heyday of Quattro engineering (via The Truth About Cars).

Photo Credit: German Cars For Sale

The major flaw with the Audi 5000 was that the car decelerated and accelerated without the driver being in control. There were dozens of catastrophic crashes involving the 5000. Audi never fixed the problem with the 5000, and the car was discontinued shortly after being released to the public.

Photo Credit: Mecum

Chevrolet Corvair

Few cars have been as catastrophic of a failure as the Corvair was. Everything about the car was a shortcut, and it was highly publicized. US congressman Ralph Nader famously published the book “Unsafe At Any Speed” directly linked to the Corvair. The Corvair was almost impossible for the driver to control at high speeds, resulting in thousands of deadly accidents (via Hemmings).

Photo Credit: Mecum

On top of the obvious design flaws with drivability, the Corvair also had issues with toxic fumes being leaked into the cabin. The Corvair was meant to be a sports car, combined with the affordable price of a compact. The result was something that gave GM a bad reputation for a long time afterward.

Photo Credit: BAT

Isuzu Trooper

There was a time when Isuzu was the go-to brand for off-road enthusiasts. Isuzu was the company that brought SUVs to the mainstream in a way that even Jeep hadn’t. The Trooper was massively popular, with a select group of drivers who wanted versatility and comfort. The second generation Trooper was even more modern looking and feeling (via Motor Trend).

Photo Credit: Car Domain

The Isuzu Trooper was a boxy SUV that was prone to tipping over. The Consumer Reports article that illustrated how the Trooper was prone to tipping over tarnished the brand’s reputation forever. The Isuzu Motor Company in America never truly recovered from the Trooper debacle and the brand was eliminated from the US market by 2006.

Photo Credit: Honda Motor Corp

Acura SLX

The Acura SLX was a lesser-known SUV, but it was one of the most unsafe ones on the road. The SLX shared its body and design with the Isuzu Trooper and there were no safety changes to the design. The SLX was not only prone to rollover accidents but also much more expensive than the standard Trooper (via Fandom).

Photo Credit: Honda Motor Corp

The SLX was only sold for a few years, but it was the first SUV with an Acura badge on it. The off-road capability of the SLX cannot be disputed thanks to the Isuzu engineering, but it wasn’t enough to save the nameplate.

Photo Credit: Isuzu

Isuzu Rodeo

The Rodeo was one of the first mass-produced mid-size SUVs on the market. Competing against the likes of the Jeep Cherokee and the Nissan Pathfinder. The Rodeo was popular when it was first released to the public. The problem with the Rodeo was its high ground clearance, which made it susceptible to rollovers (via IIHS).

Photo Credit: Isuzu

The first generation of the Rodeo was the most successful, but the design made it dangerous to drive. The second generation of the Rodeo was not the safest to drive, with the same problems relating to rollover accidents. SUVs have come a long way, but it was the Trooper and the Rodeo that gave them a questionable name early.

Photo Credit: Bring a Trailer

Pontiac Fiero

In the 1980s, the sports car segment was evolving like never before and mid-engined sports cars were some of the most popular options. The Fiero was a popular option at first because it was compact with a mid-engined design. The pint-sized Pontiac was unlike anything else the brand ever sold before (via Hot Cars).

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

The problem was that the engineering was not there, and the engine compartment was prone to fires. There were so many fires when the car was first released that it sparked outrage among consumers and the automotive press. By the time GM rectified the problems with the engine compartment fires, it was too late.

Photo Credit: Motor 1

Pontiac Trans Sport

Few cars in history have gotten such a bad crash test rating that they ended up in a museum, but the Trans Sport holds that distinction. The Trans Sport was the second-generation minivan offered by GM in the 1990s. The IIHS crash test was so bad that the van famously overlapped on itself (via Cars.com).

Photo Credit: Car Domain

The Trans Sport had a lot of potential to compete with the popular Chrysler minivans, but the poor crash test rating resonated throughout the automotive industry. Consumers were not too pleased with a van that scored this low. The Trans Sport was one of the most unsafe vehicles on the road in the 1990s.

Photo Credit: Mecum

Volkswagen Vanagon

The Vanagon, sold from 1979-1991, was one of the worst-scoring German cars ever in a crash test. The van had a flat-fronted design, which obviously meant the driver wasn’t protected. But the awkward stance of the van also made it almost impossible for the driver to control when the vehicle lost control (via Cars.com).

Photo Credit: Mecum

The Vanagon was always sold to a niche audience, like most Volkswagen cars back then, but the negative crash test didn’t help the reputation. The crash test was infamously so bad that the occupants were unbuckled and ejected from the vehicle during the crash. Needless to say, the Vanagon is a van that provides a lot of risks and little reward.

Photo Credit: Dodge

Dodge Stratus

The lowly Stratus was sold for over a decade and you used to see them everywhere. But it was also one of the worst-scoring cars in terms of safety ratings during the 2000s. This model didn’t have any side impact protection and the dated design didn’t help things out. The Stratus was competing against the likes of the Honda Civic and the Toyota Corolla (via Cars.com).

Photo Credit: Edmunds

Although Chrysler boasted about a strong front-impact crash test rating, the side-impact crash tests were lackluster at best. The Stratus was eventually discontinued and replaced with the Avenger, which itself was discontinued shortly thereafter. The Stratus just shows that domestic automakers weren’t too worried about safety ratings back then.

Photo Credit: Edmunds

Suzuki Samurai

The rollover fiasco of the 1990s wasn’t just focused on the Isuzu Trooper. Other small SUV models were also wrapped up in the debate, and the Samurai was at the forefront. Although the basic design of the Samurai dates back to the early 1980s, it wasn’t fair to compare the SUV to more modern models, such as the RAV4 (via Motor Trend).

Photo Credit: Wikimedia

The Samurai had a very short wheelbase and it was high off the ground, which meant it tipped over fairly easily. There were other SUV models with a similar design, but the Samurai was so archaic that there were no safety features. The Samurai was finally discontinued in the late 1990s after being wrapped up in the rollover debates.

Photo Credit: Car Domain

Mitsubishi Mirage

Where do we start with the lowly Mirage? It’s the cheapest car on the new car market for a reason. Safety is about nonexistent when it comes to this car, but on the positive side, you get a brand-new ride for a fraction of the price of a normal new car. But the Mirage is the most basic car you’ll ever get in the modern era (via Edmunds).

Photo Credit: Car Domain

From the cheap interior plastics to the lack of modern radio, you might mistake yourself for being back in 2004 again. The Mirage has gone without a significant redesign for quite a few years, and the lack of safety features only adds to that mystique. There are much safer cars on the road for drivers to choose from than this.

Photo Credit: Copart

Dodge Ram Van

Another unsafe vehicle marred in controversy was the Ram Van. The Ram Van had the same basic design for decades, and while businesses loved the sturdiness of the van, safety was not the first priority. These things were prone to tipping over when they had to make a fast maneuver, and the lack of a modern ABS system only worsened things (via KBB).

Photo Credit: Copart

What was even more amazing was the fact that the Ram Van stayed in production until the 2003 model year. There was a time when big passenger vans were a normal sight in everyday America. Nowadays, these behemoths have been replaced with vehicles like the Ford Transit Connect and the Chevy Express.

Photo Credit: Car Domain

Suzuki X-90

The Suzuki X-90 got it worse than almost every other compact SUV in the 1990s. Because the design didn’t make sense, and the lack of safety features was still there. The tall ground clearance meant this short thing tipped over easily. The two-seat design and lack of a passenger airbag only worsened things (via Motor Biscuit).

Photo Credit: Best Car Mag

The X-90 had a bad reputation for safety, and the sales numbers for the thing were very low. It turned out that no one wanted the weird-looking little UTE after all. Unfortunately, the basic design of the X-90 was shared with the stellar Samurai in terms of off-road capability. But the X-90 was unsafe and never sold well.

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