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Aaron Gold

Twenty truly terrible cars

By October 22, 2013

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1993 Ford AspireSeveral of my colleagues say there are no bad cars anymore -- a sentiment with which I whole-heartedly disagree. For this article, I went back roughly the length of my lifetime to find twenty of the worst cars ever to grace American roads -- some of which are still being made today. Check out my picks, and be sure to scroll down from each photo for a thorough explanation as to why they belong on the list. (I'm sure there will be a few you think I missed -- feel free to post a comment.) -- Aaron Gold

Photo of the 1993 Ford Aspire Ford

October 22, 2013 at 9:34 am
(1) Mike in Minn says:

That was fun! I didn’t intend to read all of the articles….I was just going to see which cars made the list. But by the time I got to the Olds diesel, I was laughing out loud (proof that I didn’t own one) and had to read the rest.

October 22, 2013 at 10:10 am
(2) lwatcdr says:

You left the 1980 Corvette with the 305.
I was glad that you left out some of the traditional targets like the Pinto and the Aztek.

What gets me about the Pinto is that it did not burst into flames as often as some other cars in it’s class like the Datsun yet it get the reputation.
I must live in a strange place because their are two Aztecs in my neighborhood and I see others around here a lot. I actually think they look kind of cool but I am a big scifi fan.

October 22, 2013 at 12:25 pm
(3) Eric says:

I, on the other hand, am very surprised that you left out the traditional targets, Pinto and Aztek. Although you mentioned the Jeep Compass, and referenced the Dodge Caliber, the Caliber is another truly terrible car that never should have seen the light of day, along with the Dodge Avenger.

I find it surprising, in fact shocking, that in spite of the bad press and dull response that the Acura ILX has received in the U.S., that the company is actually considering replacing their much more popular TSX with it. Even more so is that it’s a Honda product, a company that seems most of the time to really get what U.S. customers want in a car, and then provides it. Granted, they did make things like the Crosstour, Ridgeline, and Element, none of which ever took any real market share here, but, most of their small cars have been hits. Wow!

Finally, the Germans really do recognize that Americans are to lazy and too fat, and they have no problem letting us know. I heard it from several of them when I lived there; and, in fact, we are. We’re too big on average to fit comfortably into many of the small cars made, and instead opt for huge trucks and cars that we really don’t need. Most of the people I see getting out of full size cars and large trucks in my neck of the woods would easily tip the scales at 300+ lbs. We’re so lazy that many of us can’t even be bothered to maintain our cars, as evidenced by the sheer number of wrecks I see driving on our roads today, demanding instead vehicles that can seemingly run forever requiring nothing more than that we fuel them. We’re far to lazy to be bothered with shifting our own gears, which has nearly killed the manual transmission here in the U.S., and can’t be bothered with getting in or out of the back seat of a 2-door car, which has nearly killed that body style in the U.S. entirely.

October 22, 2013 at 12:31 pm
(4) Eric says:

Your comment about Daewoo distributors offering retailers a buy-three-get-one-free deal reminds me of a local Kia dealer a few years ago that ran an offer where if you bought a Sedona minivan, they’d give you a Rio for free. The underlying message for me was that Kia cars were so crappy that dealers had to give them away. That message stills clings to me even though Kia has apparently upped their game considerably since then.

When one considers how bad the GM diesels, X-body’s, Cimarron, Vega, and one more dismal GM car, the Chevette, were, it’s no wonder that once loyal Americans fled to import brands never to return. My last GM car was a 91 Lumina which was a mediocre car at best. I never gave up on GM, and will certainly look at them the next time we buy a car, but, given their history, I can certainly see why so many have turned their backs.

October 22, 2013 at 12:53 pm
(5) J Kyle says:

The Bricklin had a recent appearance as the villians’ car in the outlandish “Hobo with a Shotgun”, FWIW.

I actually just read an article about the Cosworth Vega from Automobile Quarterly, which discussed the plain Vega. The engine design was kind of interesting with lots of unique design elements, but ultimately you have to wonder “why” – the biggest problem was probably the last of cylinder head liners. The blocks were formed in enormous machines that probably cost huge amounts of money and no doubt ended up being tossed. Even the Cosworth-modified version was apparently a waste and barely stronger than the stock one.

As for the list – I would add the appalling Chevrolet HHR – I had the misfortune of ending up with one as a rental car a few years ago and it was certainly down there with the worst cars I’ve ever driven.

October 22, 2013 at 1:54 pm
(6) Aaron Gold - Cars Expert says:

Aztek will have its moment in the sun… I’ve worked up an article on the ugliest cars of recent history. It’s on hold at the moment as I want to publish 25 and we currently have a 20-page limit in the template. Sooner or later, it will see the light of day! — Aaron

October 22, 2013 at 2:52 pm
(7) jeff says:

I would add the Fiero 2m4. Pure automotive garbage. Never made any sense as the 2m6 and GT were good cars.

October 22, 2013 at 5:23 pm
(8) Bll H says:

I know of at least another 10/12 cars taht could go on this list but then some of them are thought of as being really good by some people. Some cars like wives and girl friends become beautiful in the eye of the beholder even though they are not.

My first ever real horrible lemon was the Vega which I bought in Germany while working there. various problems and dropped the tranny at less than 20K. Warranty fixed it and I sold it immediately. Swore off Chevys after that.
Next one, because my German wife loved it’s power for a 4 cyl, was a Saab 900 Turbo. Turbo blew out around 30K and tranny at less than 60K.
Got rid of it also.
Usually it only takes one bad experience with a car and people will not buy another even when they improve,
Other than those 2 mistakes I have done OK.

October 22, 2013 at 5:30 pm
(9) Bill H. says:

Erik, we’re not all fat and 300 lbs + or have a problem with manuals.
I have one and enjoy it on back roads, mountains, etc.

Trucks are very popular with kids and in rural areas as a necessity.
One reason manual shifts are on the way out is not because people are lazy it’s because they now have better gas milage than manuals.

October 22, 2013 at 7:09 pm
(10) Eric says:

Bill: I didn’t mean to imply that ALL Americans are fat, although well over half of us are either significantly overweight, or clinically obese. There are certainly those who actually need trucks, especially those who live in rural areas where snow removal is sparse to nonexistent, need extra room to haul farm related materials, or live in areas where improved/paved roads are sparse. There are, however, a ton of Americans who never drive their huge truck off road, and rarely engage the 4WD system. They simply like sitting up high, which for the life of me I just don’t get. I’ve had trucks, and I’ve had cars where I’ve sat close to the ground. Don’t miss the trucks.

Although several automatics are getting better gas mileage than manuals, that isn’t the case with all of them, a 1 or 2mpg difference in fuel economy isn’t so great that manuals should be shunned by so many. The major complaint I hear about manuals is having to shift gears and use the clutch, particularly in city driving. This is a matter of convenience, which IMHO is an extension of laziness; they just don’t care to have to do it. Although I can understand that to a point, when it gets to be so pervasive that it negatively impacts the kinds of vehicles and drive systems available to me, which it has, it really irks me!

October 22, 2013 at 11:11 pm
(11) Hawaiian Don says:

Do not forget the absolutely worthless AMC Gremlin X.
I totally agree with Jeff, the Pontiac Fiero was a total piece of crap. That Getrag 4 manual shifter was from Hades. In the six months I owned it, I got it into first gear 3 times! Taking off in that slow dog was bad enough, but in second gear…every time? PLEASE!
Finally my wife’s 85 Trans Am. Talk about hot start failure. It got towed so many times that the local towing company gave me a 50% discount. When did a towing company ever give anyone a discount???

October 23, 2013 at 9:53 am
(12) George in Ohio says:

Back before probably any of us were born (the ’40s), my uncle bought a Crosley (a sedan, not the Super Sport model). Had a ton of problems with it. He always said that he would have been farther ahead if, on the day he bought it, he started driving west from Ohio, and when he reached the Pacific Ocean, he would have kept on driving.

October 23, 2013 at 10:02 am
(13) George in Ohio says:

Also a personal note on the GM X-cars: I had an ’81 Buick Skylark with a manual transmission that I bought new. Nice enough car in many respects, but when I sold it to my brother-in-law at 70,000 miles, it was on its third clutch. Before I am branded as a clutch burner, I drove 2 other Honda Accords with clutches for 150,000 miles each with the original clutch. When my brother-in-law finally dumped the Skylark, it was in need of its sixth clutch. Loved driving a stick, but that was one time I would have been farther ahead to buy an automatic.

October 23, 2013 at 11:16 am
(14) Harry says:

So many bad cars, so little time. One glaring omission crying for mention is the Mustang 2. Ford should be ashamed to have associated that disaster with it’s iconic pony car.

October 23, 2013 at 7:55 pm
(15) John says:

I agree with most, but the VWs (R32 and Phaeton) are more examples of confused marketing than truly bad cars…such as the 2004 Chevy Cavalier I rented once. It was without question one of the worst cars I’ve ever driven. The doors and body rattled, the climate control system fogged up the windows, and the trim was literally falling apart.

The worst things were the steering and automatic transmission. It wouldn’t turn so I pushed harder, still no turn so I pushed harder, still no turn so I pushed harder…then it LURCHED around the corner. Driving it was like pushing a huge Costco shopping cart full of soda. The transmission was just dog slow and lazy. I was embarrassed to see that being sold as a Chevy, and totally understood why GM needed a government bailout a few years later.

October 23, 2013 at 8:13 pm
(16) Hawaiian Don says:

Right on Harry! That Mustang II was a total joke, having owned 1969 Mach I, 428 CJ. When I saw my first white Stang II with the giant COBRA lettering on that pathetic, sniveling runt, I laughed myself to tears!

October 24, 2013 at 12:19 pm
(17) Eric says:

Have to agree on the Cavalier, John. I had very briefly considered buying one in 1990 when I was looking for my first ever brand new car. Was considering that along with the Beretta. When I sat in one at a local dealership, I happened to move one of the AC vents; it fell out of the dash right in my hand.

Needless to say, I got out of the car, and never looked at another Cavalier ever again. That was when I ended up buying the 91 Lumina coupe. Decent enough car, but, bad interior.

October 24, 2013 at 8:58 pm
(18) Graf Zeppelin says:

How is the Acura ILX on this list, a car that’s only been on the market for a year? I own one and it’s fantastic — at least for the four of us who still drive stick. This car was exactly what I was looking for: a semi-upscale small sedan with leather, sunroof, tech features, and a stickshift. And what a stickshift; best I’ve ever driven. I leased it rather than bought it because I agree it’s a little overpriced, but I love this car.

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