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The 5 Biggest Scandals in Motor Trade History

We’ve delved into the shadows of the motor trade industry and found that there are more disasters in its history than we realised.

In no particular order, here are a few that shocked, scared and surprised us in equal measure.

Fire in the hole! – or rather, the tyres.

Blow-outs of the Firestone tyres on the Ford Explorer (2000) caused the SUV to flip over and resulted in many fatal crashes – the faulty tyres are believed to have caused approximately 200 people’s deaths.

The Explorer’s stability was under scrutiny from the start due to unimpressive handling and poor on road test results. But it was billed in showrooms as a ‘rugged and reliable family vehicle’.  As more and more vehicles started to flip, recalls were made by both Ford and Firestone, and after many disputes the two companies ended their long running partnership.

Back to the… Fridge

DeLorean set out to build a car that no one had built before. New looks and new functions all bank rolled by the British Government. John Z DeLorean had been a rising star of the motor trade after a successful period with General Motors before leaving to build his dream car.

However, due to the lack of sales of the stainless-steel sports car, the company soon saw financial troubles and legal problems. It was argued that when DeLorean was arrested and charged in 1982 for conspiracy in a $24 million cocaine deal, he was doing it to try and save his beloved business.

The car’s infamous role as Marty McFly’s time machine in Back to the future didn’t help save the business – but it did at least cement his creation in pop-culture history.

Spielberg had originally planned to use an old refrigerator instead of a car, but had changed his mind at the last minute. (The director liked the DeLorean’s futuristic look, but more than that he was worried that young fans of the movie might accidentally get stuck in refrigerators and freezers while playing make-believe.)

Read more: 5 Fails of Servicing your vehicle – and how to avoid them

The cars that never came…

1948 saw Preston Tucker’s bold futuristic car design come to life – for a little while. Tucker advertised and campaigned nationally in the U.S. to see his design off the ground, taking down payments on cars and selling accessories to customers of cars that hadn’t even been built.

The lack of financial funds for the business was the cause of the Tucker fraud charges, as the car’s production was set back, and set back, and set back. The company was eventually shut down, and Tucker as well as the board of directors were charged with fraud. At the time this was a high profile, national scandal.

The car itself was quite innovative for its time – taking into consideration advanced passenger safety features such as a padded dashboard, reinforced safety shell and shatterproof windshield. But only 51 were built, and they are now among the most sought-after classic cars on the planet.

To be or not to be – that was Ford’s question

The Ford Pinto recall is one of the most shocking scandals in the motor trade history. Although a major success after being introduced in 1971 (selling over 320,000 cars in the first year) the Pinto had a major flaw in the event of a rear-end crash.

The fuel tank could get punctured, resulting in the passenger compartment getting sprayed with fuel and igniting. But the worst part was that Ford new about it. And it was decided that it would be too expensive to fix. A leaked memo from the company in 1973 outlined guesses as to how many deaths to expect per year vs. how much it would cost to either fix the problem, or pay out the lawsuits for the estimated death toll.

Eventually in 1978 Ford recalled 1.5 million of the vehicles – but not after the damage was done. As many as 900 people died due to the Ford Pinto’s major flaw. The fact Ford were made to pay hundreds of $millions in civil lawsuits was probably very little consolation to the loved ones of their victims.

Read more: The Motor Trade Diaries


The full extent of the notorious Volkswagen emissions cover-up is yet to be known. What we definitely do know is that the deceit will end up costing VW a whole lot of money.  Their diesel cars were found by the US Environmental Protection Agency to emit up to 40 times more toxic fumes than restrictions permitted. Whether this can be proved to have contributed to known deaths is the big question…

If so, the world’s largest car company could be in major danger. Will it outlast the scandal? The residents of Wolfsburg Germany where they directly employ 60% of the population will certainly be hoping so.

Volkswagen employees tampered with a total of 15,000 algorithms [source] and in doing so facilitated the sale of 11 million diesel cars fitted with a ‘defect device’ in America and over 1.1 million in the UK.

UK car owners benefitted in June 2022 with monetary compensation of £193 million. It’s been estimated that across the globe the scandal will cost VW a whopping £4.7 billion – if not more. They were forced to recall a total of over 1 million VW Group vehicles in the UK alone.