P11401: Portable High Power-Density Energy System

Pinto Group Research Report

Group Research Project

P11401 9/14/2010

Danielle Allen

Trevor Smith

Shawn Ocorr

John VanDeLinde

The Pinto Explosion

What Happened:

On June 9, 1978, after years of legal battles and speculation from NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) Ford recalled 1.5 million Ford Pinto and 30,000 Mercury Bobcat sedan and hatchback models for fuel tank design defects which made the vehicles susceptible to fire in moderate speed rear end collisions. The beginning of the end came in April of 1974, when the Center for Auto Safety petitioned the NHTSA to recall Pintos based on reports from attorneys of three deaths and 4 serious injuries. The reports claimed a defect in the gas tank design which made it susceptible to leakage and fire in moderate to low-speed collisions. This petition languished in the NHTSA offices until 1977.

Root Cause of the Problem:

The root cause of the problem was overlooked safety due to the short development phase used in designing the Pinto. The fuel tank design had many structural flaws. Less than six inches from the rear bumper, the location of the tank made it vulnerable to damage in the event of a rear-end car collision. Such a collision would cause four bolts in the differential housing to puncture holes in the tank. Also, damage to the fuel tank was likely to cause separation of the fuel filler tube, causing spilling of gasoline. A small spark could easily create an explosion after a crash. In addition to the faulty fuel tank design, the Pinto also had many structural flaws. After a crash, the doors could easily jam shut to prevent escape. The bumpers were flimsy, and the car had no rear sub-frame members to protect the fuel tank.

Requirements that could have prevented this problem:

Performing quality control on the questionable design of the Pinto before it went into production may have prevented the problem. If the engineers had worked harder to uncover defects in their design, such as the placement of the automobiles fuel tank, the issue may have been prevented before the risk benefit analysis was even performed. After performing risk analysis, if a product is found to be defective, it is the company's duty to make improvements on the design. By instituting a means to systematically investigate discrepancies during and after the design phase of a project, disasters like this could be avoided.


The Ford Pinto resulted in penalties and changes in legislations. National standards changed in 1977 to require that cars have to be able to withstand a rear-end collision with a specific mile per hour. The Cost analysis was sanctioned by the 1966 National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act. Also, Ford was faced with more than 50 civil suits and at least 2 class-action suits. Ford was ordered to pay as much as 6.5 million to each plaintiff. In the end, Ford paid more for its mistakes then if they corrected the problem in the first place.

Microsoft Word Document

Click for the word document file of this report: Pinto Word Document