The Ford Pinto and Its Issues


It is with the humble acceptance that I appreciate your request for advice regarding Ford’s decision to overlook the safety concerns of the Pinto. It is vital for engineers to ensure that they adhere to the engineering code of ethics at all times. You have raised certain safety concerns of the Pinto with the company’s executives. However, the executives are more concerned with the design and profitability of the car. In so doing, they compromise the safety standards of the vehicle. Increasing the safety standards of the vehicle would increase the production costs and weight of the vehicle. In addition, it would alter the design of the vehicle. The executives use these as grounds to resist the measures that would improve the safety standards of the Pinto.

Main Body

It is the duty of engineers to ensure that they adhere to the engineering code of conduct. The engineering code of conduct dictates that engineers should protect the public and the environment. Engineers should also ensure that they uphold the safety of their work environment. Safety is dependent on the “engineering judgments, risk assessments, decisions, and practices incorporated into structures, machines, products, processes, and devices” (Canadian Engineering Qualifications Board, 2012, p. 4). Therefore, it is vital for engineers to ensure that their work adheres to the accepted engineering practices and codes that would guarantee safety. Safety is the most important engineering code of ethics. All other ethics are subordinate if they do not involve the protection of the public or the environment (Canadian Engineering Qualifications Board, 2012).

Therefore, as an engineer in charge of crash testing of the Pinto, it is your duty to inform the management of the safety concerns of the vehicle. The crash tests show that Pinto is a very unsafe car. Crash tests show that fuel may leak if the vehicle has a rear collision. The rear collision results in the rapture of the fuel tank. Spillage of fuel increases the risk of the vehicle bursting into flames. A spark would be enough to make the vehicle burst into flames.

The location of the fuel tank is the major factor that leads to rupture. The fuel tank is located between the differential and the rear bumper. A rear collision would jam the fuel tank against the differential housing. The four, sharp, protruding bolts on the differential would gash holes into the fuel tank resulting in spillage of fuel from the fuel tank. The bumper cannot prevent the rapture of fuel if there is a rear collision. This is because the bumper is purely for aesthetic purposes. The fuel tank may rupture in the event of rear collisions from impacts as low as 20 miles per hour (Schwartz, 1991).

However, Ford can easily avoid this problem. This is not the first time that the company is facing this problem. The company successfully fixed a similar problem in the Capri. Ford fixed this problem by mounting the fuel tank over the differential. Due to this alteration, no rupture of the fuel tank occurred in rear collisions that were as high as 30 miles per hour (Fleddermann, 2004). Therefore, Ford can use a similar approach to correct the problem in the Pinto.

However, correcting the problem is not as simple as it may sound. Fast-tracking the development of the Pinto is one of the factors that pose a challenge to the correction of this problem. This is because tooling for the manufacture of the vehicle was already at an advanced stage prior to the detection of this problem. Altering the design to alleviate this problem would necessitate the company to undertake significant changes in tooling. This would be very expensive. Therefore, management is unlikely to adopt this approach.

According to the crash tests, changing the location of the fuel tank is not the only measure that would tackle the problem of spilling of fuel due to a rear collision. Placing a protective component that costs $6.65 would protect the tank from rapture due to a rear collision. However, the company is unwilling to implement this measure. This is because the company intends to produce more than 12 million Pintos. Therefore, the total cost of implementing this measure would be more than $20 million. In addition, lining the fuel tank with a bladder would prevent the spilling of fuel. Goodyear is willing to install the bladder at a cost of $5.08 per vehicle. However, the company also rejected this proposal due to the high costs of installing the bladder in more than 12 million cars (Dowie, 1977).

Using the cost-benefit analysis to determine the viability of using the corrective measures was the major defense that Ford used to reject proposals that would improve the safety of the Pinto. The cost-benefit analysis placed a monetary value on human life. Ford was willing to kill a few people since it was much cheaper to take human life than to undertake measures that would improve the safety standards of the Pinto. All the arguments that Ford used to reject the implementation of the measures that would improve the safety standards of the Pinto were wrong. It is wrong to put a monetary on human life. In addition, the costs of implementing the measures that would improve the safety standards of the Pinto are negligible in comparison to the profits that the company would make from the sale of the vehicle.


From an engineering point of view, it is ethically wrong for a company to release a product that poses a danger to people and the environment. The safety of people and the environment supersedes all other engineering codes of ethics. An engineer would be going against the ethics of his profession by willingly allowing the manufacture of a vehicle that poses a hazard to humans. Therefore, you should not relent in your quest to convince the company to improve the safety standards of the Pinto. It is evident that releasing vehicles that are a safety hazard exposes Ford to litigation from people who may incur physical harm due to the engineering and design of the vehicle. This may result in criminal lawsuits against people who are responsible for the manufacture of the defective vehicle. In addition, developments in the motor vehicle industry show that future regulations would require companies to improve the safety standards of their vehicles. Therefore, improving the safety standards of the Pinto would be a step in the right direction. Undertaking the alterations would prevent the company from recalls of defective vehicles in the future. The costs of the recalls would be more expensive than undertaking alterations prior to the release of the vehicles to the market.


Canadian Engineering Qualifications Board. (2012). Guideline on the code of ethics. Ontario: Canadian Engineering Qualifications Board.

Dowie, M. (1977). Pinto madness. Mother Jones. Web.

Fleddermann, C.B. (2004). Engineering ethics, 2nd edition. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson- Prentice Hall.

Schwartz, G.T. (1991). The myth of the Ford Pinto case. Rutgers Law Review, 43(1013), 1013-1068.