Autos

Carmageddon: The biggest car scandals through history

Luke Graham, special to CNBC
Rain clouds are seen over a Volkswagen symbol at the main entrance gate at Volkswagen production plant in Wolfsburg, Germany.
Getty Images

In light of the storm surrounding accusations that Volkswagen rigged its diesel cars to pass emission tests in the U.S., CNBC looks back at other scandals in the autos industry.

—By Luke Graham, special to CNBC, on Wednesday September 23, 2015.

2014: GM's flawed ignition switches

Bill Pugliano | Getty Images

In February and March 2014, General Motors recalled 2.6 million cars, including models first tested in 2001, because of a potentially fatal flaw in its ignition switch design. By June 2014, the company had recalled nearly 30 million vehicles worldwide because of the ignition switches and other faults discovered, such as wiring problems.

More than 100 deaths and many more injuries were found to be related to the ignition switch fault. The company has already paid out more than $600 million in compensation to victims and their families, but more personal injury cases are yet to be heard in court, so the figure could grow. It will also have to pay a penalty of around $900 million to the U.S. government to settle a criminal probe.

2015: Fiat Chrysler's hack attack

A Jeep Cherokee is checked by a worker
Jeff Kowalsky | Bloomberg | Getty Images

In June this year, it was discovered that Fiat Chrysler vehicles with touchscreens, such as the Jeep Cherokee (pictured), could be attacked by computer hackers, who could then switch off the engines of moving vehicles. The car maker quickly recalled 1.4 million vehicles to update the touchscreen's software and plug the vulnerability.


2014: Takata’s faulty airbags

A deployed airbag is seen in a 2001 Honda Accord.
Joe Raedle | Getty Images

Airbags supplied to 11 different carmakers by manufacturer Takata were found to be potentially fatal in 2014. A metal cartridge used to inflate the airbag could potentially explode, launching metal shards and shrapnel into the driver or passenger.

The fault was found in cars built between 2002 and 2008. More than 30 million cars, including six million from Honda, had to be recalled to check and replace airbags.

2014: Hyundai-Kia overstate fuel efficiency

Mark Elias | Bloomberg | Getty Images

A two-year probe by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency found Hyundai and Kia had overstated the fuel efficiency of cars built between 2011 and 2013, such as the Hyundai Accent (pictured).

They agreed to pay a joint penalty of $300 million and in 2013 had to pay $400 million to buyers of affected cars due to a class-action law suit.

2009: Toyota's 'sticky' gas pedals

Tungyio Saelee
Justin Sullivan | Getty Images | Getty Images

Toyota recalled 10 million cars between 2009 and 2011 due to faulty mat placements and sticking pedals causing cars to accelerate uncontrollably. Twelve deaths were linked to the problem.

The Japanese car maker paid a fine of $1.2 billion in 2014 and faced hundreds of personal injury lawsuits.


2015: Fiat Chrysler's poor recall process

Bill Pugliano | Getty Images | Getty Images

Fiat Chrysler had to pay a fine of $105 million to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for faults made when recalling vehicles, such as misleading regulators, failing to alert vehicle owners and making inadequate repairs.

The safety body had upped its fines after being criticized over its handling of General Motors's ignition switch recall. It fined General Motors $35 million for not alerting the regulator early enough.


1978: Ford’s Pinto problems

Joe Amon | The Denver Post | Getty Images

Introduced in 1971, the Ford Pinto was a popular and best-selling car. However, 1.5 million Pintos were recalled in 1978 after it was discovered that the car could burst into flames during rear-end collisions.

A defect in the gasoline tank meant that during a collision it could rupture and spray fuel inside the car, which could easily ignite. Hundreds of deaths and physical injuries were related to the defect. Ford had to pay out millions in lawsuits and became the first U.S. corporation to be prosecuted for criminal homicide.

What made matters worse were newspaper reports that Ford was aware of the problem and had decided to settle lawsuits for deaths and injuries rather than recall vehicles and fix the problem. However, the car company was found not guilty of reckless homicide in the 1980 court case.


1996: Ford’s faulty ignition switches

Robert Gauthier | The LA Times | Getty Images

Ford recalled 8.7 million vehicles, including the Ford Escort (pictured), due to an ignition switch problem that could cause the car to explode. At the time, this was the biggest recall by a single car maker.

Learn more: The auto industry's five biggest recalls

2000-2001: Ford/Firestone tire fight

Robert King | Newsmakers | Getty Images

In 2000, Ford and tire maker Firestone were alerted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration that a large number of tires fitted to the Ford Explorer couldblow out, which could cause the vehicle to roll over.

Ford and Firestone blamed each other for the problem. In 2000,Firestone recalled 6.5 million tires to check if they were faulty. Then, in 2001, Ford recalled a further 13 million tires.

Around 240 deaths were attributed to the tire failures and Ford faced hundreds of lawsuits seeking damages of $590 million in total.


1999-2009: Ford’s cruise control crisis

George Waldman | Bloomberg News | Getty Images

In 2009, Ford recalled 4.5 million vehicles, including 1.1 million Ford Wildstars (pictured), due to a fault with cruise control that could cause a fire.

The cruise control switch problem had dogged the car company for at least a decade: Over the course of 10 years, Ford has recalled 14.3 million vehicles to check for and fix the defect.