A row of used cars are parked at a dealership.

Worst Used Cars of All Time


There are a lot of different factors that go into buying a used car. Ultimately, it boils down to what best suits your lifestyle needs and your budget. Technically speaking, all used cars come with a sense of the unknown. Even with a vehicle history report, you never know what the previous owners did with the vehicle. However, today’s used cars are far superior to cars of the past with more technology and higher average safety ratings.

The majority of the time, buying a used car works out just fine. However, there are some serial offenders in the auto world that should be avoided at all costs. Let’s go over the worst used cars of all time.

Chevrolet Vega

In production from 1971 to 1977, the Chevrolet Vega housed one of the worst engines in automobile history. The aluminum block had no lining (which has been completely perfected nowadays), which led to piston scuffing. Since the block was capped by a heavy iron cylinder head that expanded at varying rates, this caused permanent damage to the engine. Poor rustproofing and hurried paint jobs also made this vehicle prone corrosion. These issues were caused by rushed production. Workers were pushed to produce one Vega every 36 seconds. This quickly led to mechanical flaws being overlooked and quality control being almost non-existent.

As the workers tried to push out 100 vehicles per minute, more issues arose in the paint department. Approximately 85 vehicles per hour needed repairs.

Ford Pinto

From 1971 to 1980, the Ford Pinto earned the title of the worst American car ever to be produced. In an attempt to compete with the Chevy Vega, Ford sold over 3 million vehicles in a short amount of time. This technically made the Pinto the best-selling subcompact car in the country, but not many people were happy with what they got. Not only was the car ugly, but it was also deadly.

An orange Ford Pinto, which is known to be one of the worst used cars on the market, is parked in a grassy field with a horse in the background.

Due to a very poor fuel tank design, 180 people were burned to death from the fuel tank exploding. The faulty fuel tank was positioned between the rear bumper and the rear axle. It was also exposed due to reduced rear crash space. In other words, the rear bumper was more ornamental than functional. If you are thinking that this was an accident, think again. Ford engineers knew about this dangerous design flaw, but they decided to push the vehicle through production. Why? Because the lawsuits from injury and death cases would be cheaper than fixing the problem.

1981 Cadillac L62

Really all Cadillac models from 1981 deserve to be on this list. This is mainly due to the faulty cylinder deactivation system. In an attempt to curb hefty tax penalties for having gas guzzlers, Cadillac partnered with Eaton Corporation to develop the L62 V8-6-4 engine. The idea was to convert the V8 into a 4.5L V6 or a 3.0L V4 engine at cruise speeds. This was supposed to increase the overall fuel efficiency by 15%. While the concept was good, the execution was not. This type of mechanical technology was way ahead of its time, and the engine wasn’t powerful or fast enough to manage this kind of switch. Therefore, many dealerships had to disable this function.

Oldsmobile Diesel

Let’s take a look at the Oldsmobile Diesel from 1878 to 1985. This model was so bad that it left a nasty taste in the mouths of consumers for years after. At the time, GM – like so many other automakers – was struggling to develop vehicles that could adhere to the new fuel economy standards. They thought that diesel was the answer to all their problems. The only issue was that diesel relied on high compression ignition and produces stronger vibrations under the hood. Engineers didn’t take this into consideration and didn’t change out the head bolts to stronger ones that could withstand the increased rattling. This led to gasket failures and coolant leaking into the combustion chamber. Although they ended up producing multiple versions of the engine and finally got it right, the brand trust had gone into the dumpster by then.

A light purple 1979 Oldsmobile Diesel is parked in front of an old stone building on a cobble stone driveway.

1957-1991 Trabant

You read those numbers right. The awful Trabant was in production for 34 years despite being one of the worst models on the market. About 4 million of these were made, but luckily not many survived. Why? Because they were made out of Duroplast. That’s a plastic material comprised of recycled cotton and wood fiber. Some of these atrocious models were actually eaten by pigs!

Triumph TR7

There were so many poorly made vehicles in the 1970s. This is mainly due to the Gas Guzzler Tax, which left automakers scrambling to create better, more environmentally-friendly cars. The British Triumph TR7 was produced from 1975-1981. It was a two-door coupe that looked like the car you used to draw in kindergarten. It was powered by a 4-cylinder engine that barely put out 105 hp. Simply put, it was ugly and had virtually no power. It had a coil-spring suspension in the front and back that made for a very uncomfortable ride, and it was considered to be an unreliable car even for its time.

Austin Allegro

Stay staying across the pond in England; our list wouldn’t be complete without the Austin Allegro. If you think the Triumph TR7 is ugly, wait until you see this atrocity. Meant to replace its predecessor – the Austin 1100 – the Allegro was tiny on the inside and lacking in the power department. Sometimes the doors would jam shut, or the rear window would fall out. Even though it was refreshed twice during its decade of production (1973-1982), no one wanted these anymore.

A yellow 1979 Austin Allegro is parked on grassy next to trees.

Reliant Robin

Would you voluntarily get into a three-wheeled car? You’d be reluctant at the very least. The Reliant Robin (1973-1981) is the rectangular-shaped automobile that rides around on three wheels, or at least it attempts to. The strange steering wheel is mounted right in the center of the cabin to control that middle front wheel. Did you want to make a turn? No, you can’t. Why? Because the vehicle will literally fall over. It’s also constructed out of fiberglass and was nicknamed the Plastic Pig. That should tell you everything you need to know about this sad little ride. Due to its “unique” appearance, it has been featured in several films, including Disney’s Cars 2 and television shows like Top Gear.

Avoiding the Lemons

Now that you know which used cars to stay away from, you can begin your search for a set of pre-owned wheels with more confidence. Just remember to ask for a vehicle history report.