ProPublica

Journalism in the Public Interest

Exploding Gas Tanks, Defective Air Bags and Other Car-Company Scandals (MuckReads Weekly)

There’s a long history of car company scandals – and sluggish responses from regulators.

Some of the best #MuckReads we read this week. Want to receive these by email?  Sign up to get this briefing delivered to your inbox every weekend.

The recent revelation that Volkswagen used software to make its diesel engines appear to be polluting less than they are is just one of a long list of scandals that have plagued the auto industry. Here is a selection of some of the best reporting on the subject.

Pinto Madness

Mother Jones, 1977

The Ford Pinto was rushed into production in the early 1970s despite the company knowing that the gas tank could explode in a rear-end collision. Ford decided to do nothing about it because a cost-benefit analysis showed that it was cheaper to pay legal costs for an expected number of future victims than to fix the cars.

Air Bag Flaw, Long Known to Honda and Takata, Led to Recalls

The New York Times, 2014

Automakers often know about defects with their cars but fail to report them to regulatory authorities. That is what happened a decade ago with exploding airbags placed in Honda cars. For years, the car company failed to tell regulators about the problem, even as it was settling with owners whose airbags exploded.

Internal Ford documents about Explorer rollovers take a look at engineering

The Washington Post, 2010

Sometimes automakers may know about problems but get caught up on establishing blame, at the expense of consumers. By 2000, more than 100 people died in rollover accidents in Ford Explorers. Ford blamed Firestone, the tire company, while Firestone blamed Ford. But Ford memos unearthed in 2010 showed the company knew of potential fixes that could “save lives” but decided against doing do in the U.S.

Regulator Slow to Respond to Deadly Vehicle Defects

The New York Times, 2014

Automakers may have a history of covering up problems with its cars, but the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has a history of sluggish enforcement: The agency has often not gotten involved until cases of faulty vehicles have already becomes crises. Instead, the agency has spent as much money giving ratings to new cars as it has investigating defects.

Broken system? GM crisis sparks scrutiny of NHTSA, handling of mounting recalls

The Detroit Free Press, 2014

What happens after car companies issue a recall? Often not much. Even when the recalls address a significant problem, automakers rarely fix all the cars they originally intended to do, leaving faulty cars on the streets for years.

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