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What is the worst safety design defect that ever made it to production?

This is the guy formally known as WheresRick. I cant get back onto my old account so now I am back as WhoSaidRick.

Recently I seen a crash involving a mid 80’s chevy c/k pickup, it was a left front collision, no one appeared to be seriously hurt. That being said It got me to thinking about the side saddle fuel tanks on those trucks which were a huge news story in the 90s after anywhere from 150 to 1800 people were killed or maimed by the fuel tank exploding after a side collision which ruptured the poorly placed fuel tank.

I did research and the trucks were designed starting in 1968 and it was dictated that the fuel tank was to be moved from the cab of the truck to outside the truck as close to the center as possible.

GM management wanted to boost sales by being able to advertise a large fuel capacity which was only possible by mounting a 5ft long “side saddle” fuel tank on the outside frame rails of the truck. You could get 2 tanks for a total of 40 gallons of capacity.

As we know this poor design has caused many families pain and grief, sometimes burning people in both vehicles involved in the collision.

This stands out as one of the most notable poor safety designs ever because many of the trucks are still on the road, I see several most days in my redneck of the woods. Now I know they are not as numerous as the once were but the design has been bombing down our roads since 1973.

Thats 43 years all of us have been in danger from the poor design!

I know theres a similar concern with the pinto, but I have only seen one pinto (Bobcat Actually) on the roads in the past year.

Any other notable design defects? Any you think are worse?


I guess I don’t get too excited about it. My VW bug had the tank right up front where the radiator would go on a normal car. Some pick ups had them right behind the front seat and tractor trailers are huge tanks on the sides well exposed-understandably diesel (jet fuel). You have to put them somewhere. Probably just need plastic liners or something to prevent puncturing.

For many years the steering gear incorporated the steering column shaft

and in a head on collision you can imagine where it was going.

Worst ever? Probably the Isetta.


One of my neighbors had an Isetta, he had to chain it to a tree to keep kids from picking it up and hiding it


Even though it was actually an Italian design, most of the Isettas that were exported to The US were made by BMW.

I wonder how the typical ever-tailgating, always-speeding BMW fanatics nowadays feel about this example of…The Ultimate Driving Machine


My 72 ford f150 had the tank behind the seat, I recall thinking that was not a great idea especially as I was lighting up a smoke… The new shifters mentioned on this site in a post that people are not getting it into park, could be one, Lady at work somehow left her Jeep running all day, as she did not know it was still running when she exited the vehicle. Lower visibility in newer cars has also been an issue for some, poorly performing headlights in new cars has also been brought up. I would put on the top of my list unintended acceleration problems with Toyotas, followed by Takata airbags and gm ignition switches.

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I agree the isetta and the steering column that would skewer you were really bad, but they are nowhere as widespread as the 73-87 Pickups. Like I said I still see many on the road nowadays.

Ironically the 73-87 pickups were the first gm pickup (maybe first ever) To have a collapsible steering column.

The whole reason they say they went with side saddle tanks is that that was the only way to have high fuel capacity. it was a feature demanded by the sales dept.

It wasn’t just the steering column on the Isettta, it was the entire body! A buddy of mine had one back about '71, and I drove it a few times. There was nothing between the driver/passenger and the other car’s steel but a thin sheet of metal. A very thin sheet. It was fun to play with, but it was an eggshell with a go-cart engine (a very small motorcycle engine actually). I have to admit, however, that on a straight flat road in North Dakota we did get it up to 50mph once. I don’t recommend it. We were young and foolish. :scream:

I hope you are aware that a major TV news station ADMITTED rigging the truck, so that the tanks would explode on national TV

Initially, they couldn’t get the tanks to explode by just having a crash. So they rigged up some explosives, I believe, for dramatic effect

BTW . . . I’m talking about the Chevy trucks with the tanks outside the frame rails

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I saw that exposee. I think the Pinto design of a drop in gas tank that served as a trunk floor was the worst. It was not only the pinto that used it, some mid sized and full sizes Fprd products used it as well.
My father in law pought a new Pinto in 78. His wife complained about smelling gas in the new hatchback. He had drilled 4 holes in the “trunk floor” to mount a fusee holder!

LOL, he had a lot of company, oldtimer. Using the gas tank as the trunk floor was not an uncommon design in the old days, and I’ve heard a number of cases where owners drilled holes in what they thought was the trunk floor to mount things. :skull_crossbones:

The Corvair rear suspension that folded up on curves and flipped the car was bad as was the solid steering column with the forward mounted steering box. There was also the body rot in the rear which would drop the battery onto the tire. Same car with the exhaust heating the interior. There was the New Yorker with the great big holes rotted through the top of the front fender. The Saturn Vue with the collapsing rear suspension when you try an emergency maneuver. Antistop brakes…

Remember, those “fiery” crashes were rigged by a TV show to sensationalize a small number of actual incidents. And most of the fires and injuries weren’t caused by the gas tanks, they were, like most wrecks, caused by careless and reckless drivers.

I had a 1971 Chevy pickup, with the single in-cab gas tank the truck had a range of maybe 180 miles if you were lucky. Of course a larger fuel capacity was needed.

In all of those decades how many Chevy trucks were manufactured and how many problems were there? I’m sure the percentage of problems was in the tiniest fraction of a percent.
Many of those trucks have been wiped clean out with no fire involved…

The one design flaw that pxxxxx me off to no end because it almost killed me once was the weak seat backs on some 80s era Subarus. A Subaru I owned was listed under the Recall but Subaru would not cover it. They kept telling me the VIN did not exist even though great care was used in submitting it correctly and repeatedly. The car had been sold new by the Subaru dealer I worked for and I bought it from the dealer after the owner traded it back in. After 2 weeks I gave up fighting with them and hoped for the best. I had performed many of those Recall personally but can’t do my own…

Fast forward a dozenish years and I’m tooling down the Cimarron Turnpike at 70 MPH on my way to Tulsa and grooving on the tunes from the stereo.
Suddenly there was a loud POP and I found myself lying flat on my back with a fully reclined seat and staring at the dome light due to a fractured seat frame.
Thankfully that stretch of road was straight and there was no one around me. I kept the wheel straight and hoisted myself up by the steering wheel until I could see over the dash, knocked the shifter into neutral with an elbow, and coasted to the shoulder.

Since my options were limited I had to stuff the spare tire behind the seat back to keep it upright for the rest of my trip to Tulsa and home.
Just one more example of why I loathe corporate Subaru and not the cars.

I was about 2 miles from the toll booth when the seat broke. Thankfully it did not break as I was entering the toll lanes.

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I think that it is really difficult to quantify which designed-in safety defect might have been “the worst”, and the best that we can hope for is to list some leading contenders for that category.
So, I will mention the projectile design and the “cookie cutter” design of many steering wheel hubs in the '50s & '60s.

It was bad enough that steering columns were rigid and that in some models the steering box was directly behind the front bumper, thus leading to the potential for drivers to be impaled by their own steering column, but some steering wheel hubs actually had a pointed, bullet-like center that would be absolutely deadly in the event of a collision. Others had sculpted designs with very sharp edges, which would have had almost as devastating a result when a driver’s chest impacted the steering wheel.

One company’s “safety design defect” is another’s design choice. Sidesaddle gas tanks were an improvement over in-cab tanks. At least a small leak wouldn’t inflame the cab. The frames were narrow because they were easier to make so there was room outside the frame. If a side-hit was hard enough to burst the tank, the driver is likely killed before the fire. As frames got wider (thank you, deep draw stamping) tanks went inside the rails.

Strapping the fuel tank to the truck floor instead of actually being the trunk floor added weight and cost for the benefit of a firewall. Molded plastic gas tanks allowed under the rear seat mounting so they were better than those mounted under the trunk.

Live, learn, redesign and move forward. We call that progress.


The problem with the Pinto was the gas tank wasn’t protected. The tank could explode with as little as a10mph crash.

The “swingarm” rear suspension in the Corvairs was a standard design for rear engine cars at the time. Porsche had exactly the same thing. As did VW Beetles. Corvair changed it to control arms, eliminating the problem.

All cars rotted back then.
Having learned on and driven a '61 Corvair and then a '65 Corvair, and having then bought a '61 Beetle, I can tell you firsthand that the Corvairs got a bad rap. They were every bit as good as, and better than, many other cars on the market at that time. Ralph Nader had never even driven a car when he wrote his book. He had no license. He was a freshly-minted lawyer trying to make a name for himself in tort law. He succeeded in his goal. But at the expense of the Corvair. He has a Tort Law Museum now, which of course promotes himself.


The early Mustang has this design, not the Pinto. The Pinto failed at the filler neck and from punctures. (Either way, you’re “toast.”)

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