Ford Pinto Fires

The Ford Pinto was known to have fuel tank problems, and ones which could lead to fatalities and severe injuries.

The automotive industry requested that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) set a value on human life, which set a figure of $200 000. From this, Ford produced an estimate of $67 000 per severe burn victim.

In a famous memo in 1973, it was estimated by Ford that there would be approximately 180 fatalities as a result of leaving the Ford Pinto on the road with the existing problem. It was also noted that the cost of fixing the problem would be $11 per vehicle.

No recall was performed. More than 500 fatalities occurred.

The Ford Pinto was a case where the concept of acceptable safety was quite different from the various points of view involved.

In "Talking Straight" (published by Bantam Books in New York with ISBN 0-553-05270-5) Lee Iacocca has some more reflections on the handling of the incident.

That's [clamming up] what we did at Ford in the late 70s when we were bombarded with suits over the Pinto, which was involved in a lot of gas tank fires. The suits might have bankrupted the company, so we kept our mouths shut for fear of saying anything that just one jury might have construed as an admission of guilt. Winning in court was our top priority; nothing else mattered. And of course, our silence added to all the suspicions people had about us and the car.

I learned something from that. The Pinto was a legal problem and a public relations problem, and we chose to deal only with the legal problem. Ever since then, whenever we've had a similar choice to make at Chrysler, we've done the exact opposite. We've chosen to look past the legal consequences and go public with the whole truth.

See, you do learn from experience. Reminds me of that old Pennsylvannia Dutch saying I used to hear so often while growing up: "Why do we get so soon oldt so late shmart?"


The decision not to recall the Ford Pinto for repairs was done on a financial basis. Leaving the vehicles on the road without informing the customers was widely viewed as socially unacceptable.


Interestingly, in "Iacocca; An Autobiography" by Lee Iacocca with William Novak (published by Bantam Books with ISBN 0-553-05067-2) he claims that there was "... absolutely no truth to the charge that we tried to save a few bucks and knowingly made a dangerous car".