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Every year, a number of vehicles are recalled by the manufacturer secondary to malfunctions or safety issues. The automotive problems may lead to serious injuries or deaths, which lands manufacturers in court for damages. One of the most famous cases involved the Ford Pinto.

The subcompact car manufactured by Ford Motor Company soon became popular during the 1970s. However, it did not take long before owners learned that the gas tank would rupture and catch fire secondary to rear-end collisions. Fumes traveling to the interior of the vehicle easily ignited, which engulfed the entire car in flames. Injuries and fatalities related to the gas tank weakness landed Ford in court.

Individuals involved in the collisions commonly suffered horrific burns requiring reconstructive surgery. Others lost their lives secondary to the extent of their injuries. The Gray and Grimshaw families were victims of the Pinto malfunctions and were awarded $559,680 and $2.5 million respectively. The court also punished Ford Motor Company by fining the corporation $3.5 million.

Investigations found that the company was aware of the flaw as evidenced by documentation of crash tests. During 40 tests, the gas tank ruptured each time when hit from behind at an impact of more than 25 miles per hour. Ford engineers came up with possible solutions to the problem that included lining the tank with nylon, adding protection to the rear end and inserting a baffle between the tank and the differential housing. The cost of the corrections ranged from $1.00 to $8.00 per vehicle.

However, due to Lee Iacocca’s strict standards, no corrections were made. The Pinto was developed to compete with Germany’s Volkswagen and Japanese imports. Lee Iacocca demanded that the vehicle weigh no more than 2,000 pounds and cost no more than $2,000. Thus, any corrections would increase the weight and price of the car.

Production took a mere 25 months in order for the Pinto to be introduced into Ford’s 1971 lineup. Under normal conditions, vehicles require approximately 43 months for production. Adding to the errors made by the company was the discovery that Ford had a patent for a safer fuel tank.

Even after being fined for negligence, Ford lobbied against requiring automotive safety standards despite the fact that hundreds lost their lives due to the Pinto error. In the end, more than 100 lawsuits were filed against the automotive manufacturer. The Grimshaw case changed the automobile industry with the message that if other automakers chose to ignore safety considerations, it would be at their own risk of financial peril. The auto industry ultimately emphasized safety features and moved away from Iacocca’s mindset that “safety doesn’t sell”.