There have been some massive recalls, most recently Toyota's infamous unintended acceleration debacle. But what about all the other faulty cars out there? Let's give some dubious distincton to the rest of the crowd of exploding, flaming, and maiming cars.
#5 1972 Dont Drive your VW in the Rain
In 1972, Volkswagen offered wiper arm replacment for 3.7 million vehicles because they tended to fall off. While many might not find this recall especially terrifying, I've had several experiences with heavy rain and malfunctioning wiperblades to understand the true horror. Hit the interstate at 11pm in monsoon conditions with faulty wipers, bad brakes, and iffy steering. In a 4 ton truck. You'll see what I mean.
#4 1996: Ford Spontaneously Combusts
I had the quasi-pleasure of learning the basics of cars from my dad's Eddie-Bauer edition 1989 Ford Aerostar. I learned to drive, bleed brakes, change oil, and do peg-legged burnouts. I learned that all my 5th grade friends were terrified by steam pouring out of the vents when a heater hose burst (pussies). I also learned that this particular vehicle had the added feature of spontaneously combusting, after my dad and I witnessed one go up in flames while waiting for a bus. Thus, this next recall hits close to home, as I have personally owned a handful of cars that had the potential of ignition switch conflagration. Ford, apparently unaware of the concept of a fuse, recalled nearly 9 million vehicles when they realized that there was the potential for ignition switches on many 88-93 to internally short circuit and potentially cause fire, even if the car was off. Fortunately no injuries or deaths were reported, but the idea of the steering column going up in flames earns this recall a spot on this list.
To vicariously experience some of my misguided nostalgia, check out this video of a 12 second Aerostar burning rubber.
#3 2009: Honda's Airbag Shrapnel
With youtube somewhat invaded by davidsfarm immitators, the humble airbag, once heralded as a safety innovation, has taken on a new life as the punchline in a plethora of oft-hilarious prank videos. The only thing worse than getting blown off a couch by a nefarious airbag is having that airbag shoot shrapnel at you. In your face. While you're driving. And thats exactly what some Hondas have been doing during accidents, in which the bag inflates with so much pressure that the inflator actually ruptures and shoots metal shrapnel at the face of those it was meant to save. Twelve incidents have taken place so far, with one fatality attributed to airbag-shrapnel. To date, over 950,000 vehicles have been recalled, including Accords, Civics, CR-Vs, and some Acura TLs.
#2 1971: GM — The Original Unintended Acceleration
While some automotive purists blamed Toyota's recent unintended acceleration fiasco on a disconnect betweeen the driver and the car, many forget the all-mechanical failure that lead to GM's widespread recall of cars and light trucks in 1971. The recall effected many vehicles equipped with small-block V8's (read: nearly Chevy's entire lineup) built from 1965 to 1969. The rubber used in the engine mounts of the effected vehicles had the nasty tendency of separating from the metal parts of the mount, resulting in the entire engine shifting position and, in some cases, flooring the accelerator while simultaneouslty causing the brakes to fail — two heart-stopping symptoms when separate and a colostomy bag full of balls-to-the-wall fear when in tandem. Failed brakes still ring an especially sour chord with me after an experince involving Italian cilff-side villages and a "leaky" Alfa Romeo. GM was reluctant to enact the recall, at first arguing that engine mounts were maintaince items. But after pressure from everyone's favorite consumer advocate, Ralph Nader, and the realization that a $5 engine mount (installation included) is a small price to pay to prevent loss of life and a morass of bad press, a total of 6.7 million vehicles were recalled. Though I don't particularly like the idea of drive-by-wire systems (at all), I can't help but think this all-mechanical failure is a bit more terrifying than a runaway Prius.
#1 1973-1987: GM C/K Trucks Explode on Impact
Thought not technically a "recall," I'm giving this err...issue not only a spot on the list, but the #1 spot, due to the sheer volume of the effected vehicles, as well as the terrifying results of this mistake. As Jalponik previously reported, 1973-1987 were built with the critical design flaw of placing the gas tanks outside the frame rails, leaving them vulnerable to all-too-common side impact accident. Though many recalls effect a vast number of vehicles, the risk of the anything actually happening is usually relatively low. Not so with the GM C/K pickups, in which almost any side impact can quickly turn from a simple fender bender to a deadly, fiery accident. The most disturbing thing about this issue is not the vast number of lives effected — 1800 people died in fire related C/K accidents between 1973 and 2000 — but that GM was aware of the risks associated with side-saddle gas tanks, yet still ruled that the monetary savings outweighed the cost of human life. GM officials neglected ideas of gas tank shileds that would have greatly mitigated the chance of fire. When compelled to enact a recall by the NHTSA in 1993, GM staunchly refused, and instead responded with a 50 page report supposedly proving that their trucks were as safe as any. To date, GM has paid out over 500 million dollars in settlements in cases related to C/K trucks.