Best of Deals Car Reviews Repair Shops Cars A-Z Radio Show

Top Automotive Engineering Failures: Ford Pinto Fuel Tanks

The Pinto was one of 10 cars that deserved to fail, according to Popular Mechanics magazine. Heres the article:


US taxpayer bail out of GM and Chrysler are tops on my list (as engineered by Wall St. and Washington, DC).

US taxpayer bail out of GM and Chrysler are tops on my list.

That’s an engineering failure how?

What the article did not tell you is that the Pinto helped Ford meet thier fleet fuel average goal so aside from the fuel tank mistake the Pinto was good for Ford.

Have you ever driven a Pinto? I doubt it.

Does “Popular Mechanics” have some special status that makes it able to name a “Top 10” anything?

Why should we even care about this? The Pinto has been extinct for years.

Top Automotive Engineering Failures:

any Chrysler product ( ;

I don’t know, meaneyed…people still talk today about the good old exploding Pinto. It was (and still is) a publicity nightmare. They’ve really gotten much better, but I’d rather be in a Chevy.

I dropped a warmed up 302 V-8 into a Pinto, used Mustang II running gear, and had an amazing little Street Sleeper…The Pinto gas tank was no worse than what was used in many other cars…All in all, they were a pretty solid little car…

Twotone, the taxpayers (who are they?) are going to make money off the GM and Chrysler bailouts…A brilliant move that saved our industrial base…

I don’t believe it was the tank itself but the location and “Ford’s executives then decided to go ahead and market and sell the Pinto, without fixing the gas tank problem.” Why redesign the rear end just to save a few lives ?

IMO, it was the general attitude of all car manufacturers till enough political pressure was brought to bear on the fed. Like it or not, I feel it was the beginning of the end of “screw” the public for maximum profit where safety is concerned, I also feel Ford did a complete turnaround and has built some of the safest cars in the last 30 years overall.

All in all, the Pinto was a solid little car otherwise as illustrated by the use of it’s motor in the Ranger for many years later. Can’t decide whether it’s a compliment to the motor or a put down to the Ranger.

I had one and it was not a bad car at all. It was over the top cool when I put a Kenworth shift knob on the stick.

If memory serve correct the news reported the same thing happened with Crown Vics of the 90-00’s

Back in 1984 there was a comedy movie called “Top Secret” with Val Kilmer kind of like the Airplane movies. It was based in Europe during WWII. During a chase scene the Nazis were driving an out of control half track in an empty field, during the 40’s, in Europe and…in the middle of the empty field was a Ford pinto. The out of control half track, of course, ran up behind the Pinto and barely touched the rear bumper with a barely audible TINK sound. The entire field erupted into a huge fireball.

Let’s not forget that Ford learned a couple other fuel tank lessons the hard way (for us). There were the badly placed tanks on school buses which would cause bad fires if the bus were hit from one side. There were the Crown Vic tanks which would fire up if the police cruiser were hit in the rear while parked for a traffic stop.

Ford wanted to build affordable vehicles. There are probably a lot of tightwads walking around today who would buy anything cheaply if it runs. Now there are lawyers and government agencies that will make car companies pay one way or another. The other thing that works to keep disasters from happening is knowledge and experience. They both work if used with a conscious effort and a conscientious effort.

I would drive a lightweight contraption and hope for the best, but I want all the experience and knowledge built in, so that the thing wouldn’t automatically be expected to kill me during an accident. Due to cell phones, I might retract that statement if I run out of courage. Head-on collisions are hard to survive even when there is a whole car around you.

My 1971 Toyota Corolla 1.6 was the worst piece of garbage that I have ever owned. Things broke on that car that never broke for me before and have not broken since with other brands. I don’t care how good Toyota may be now; after owning that Corolla I will not buy another Toyota as they cheated me with that car. You can read about a few of those things on I would call that car an engineering and manufacturing failure. Disaster might be a better word.

The only good that could be said about it is that I learned how to set up gear tooth engagement on a rear drive differential using Prussian blue, learned how to remachine the sealing surface on an aluminum cylinder head with a large file, got to change lower front suspension “A” frames and also got a review on several other car repair items. It was that car that got me going with wheel alignments at home with simple and home-made tools. I learned how to avoid changing leaky front struts on a car that will soon be scrapped by drilling a hole near the tops to add oil. The holes were plugged with thread forming Tri-Lobular screws.

The front tires/wheels would not be in balance, no matter how hard I tried. Then I found that removing one front wheel, rotating it 90 degrees (it had four lug screws) would stop the steering wheel shimmy. Call it witchcraft, voodoo, or sorcery but it worked more than once when I got new tires or else did tire rotations.

Nothing that I have owned before or since was as bad as that car. My 1947 Chevrolet that I bought for $10 in 1963 was a paragon of reliability in comparison. My dad’s 1937 Chevrolet was a better car than that Toyota Corolla.

People who obsess over the minor differences in modern brands that Consumer Reports and others use to push magazines have no idea of what true unreliability can be. I have seen the elephant, so to speak, with that Toyota Corolla.

There has never been a car made in which the question “what in the hxxx were they thinking of” could not be applied to. From minor to major, they’re all guilty.

The 70s era Subaru wet-sleeve engines epitomized head gasket failures even if they were never overheated.
Aluminum block, removeable cylinder sleeves designed to protrude about .005 of an inch above the block surface to promote head gasket sealing, and those same liners resting on copper rings of varying thicknesses.

It was recommended that the head bolts be rertorqued every 15k miles and the last I heard copper was as soft metal. Eventually the copper would squish down like a penny on the railroad tracks with the liners sinking in the block and the head gaskets would go.

It’s kind of amazing that a building full of high paid engineers went through this process, had it signed off on by various stages of management, and no one questioned what a blind man could plainly see was going to happen.

The Crown Vics got the bad rap because a cop got killed due to an exploding fuel tank. If I remember correctly, the car that hit him was doing something like 70-80 MPH and my feeling is that any car that gets rammed from behind at that speed can easily go up in flames.

Pasted from the Popular Mechanics article: one more example of Journalistic Malpractice.

“In the ensuing years, though, some doubt has been cast on the relative severity of the defect. Reports range from 27 to 180 deaths as a result of rear-impact-related fuel tank fires in the Pinto, but given the volume of more than 2.2 million vehicles sold, the death rate was not substantially different from that of vehicles by Ford’s competitors.”

Read more: Ford Pinto Fuel Tanks - Top Automotive Engineering Failures - Popular Mechanics

The Tennessee State Trooper that was killed in his Crown Vic was hit by an 18 wheeler whose driver had a history of passing out while driving due to a medical problem. When he lost his license in one state, he would get a license from another state.

As for the Pinto gas tank problem, it was common practice to locate the gas tank under the trunk with the filler behind the gas cap. The Pinto had a common type of gas tank in a common location. The problem was that due to the smaller size of the car, there was less clearance between the rear bumper and the gas tank, but only by an inch or so. It was compounded by a mounting bolt for the bumper that would puncture the gas tank on the smallest of rear-end collisions.

OK4450, the collision that you might be thinking about could have been the Chevrolet Lumina, whose gas tank meet all of the new federal safety standards, but caught fire when hit by a drunk driver going 70-80 mph. The family who was badly burned, won a judgement against GM for $7 Billion from that accident.

One piece of Ford engineering that I thought was as bad as the gasoline tanks on the Pinto was having the top of the gas tank as the floor of the trunk. Some Ford Mustangs and Ford Falcons were built this way in the 1960s.

I had a '65 Mustang, that ‘drop-in’ tank, while a safety nightmare, did make replacement a snap - brother backed over a steel post, so we got a replacement from the junkyard and dropped it in in about an hour.

But to discuss Ford today, instead of Ford 40-50 years ago, they are at the top of the heap in design - I own 2, and safety is a huge priority for me. I hope folks reading this ancient history lesson realize that.

Let us not forget about the power brakes on '53 Buicks.
Due to a very bizarre design flaw, the vacuum reservoir was prone to sucking the brake fluid out of the master cylinder under certain circumstances. Yes, I know that this sounds improbable, but a large number of accidents and several deaths were testimony to this very bad design–which, due to lax regulations in those days, was never the subject of a recall.

While only a small percentage of any make of car is ever hit in the rear, 100% of vehicles need to have a brake system that can be counted on to work reliably. Unfortunately, GM failed that standard miserably with the optional power brakes on the '53 Buick.