Legally Lemony – Brake Mistake: The Pedal to the Metal Audi Lawsuits

This story is brought to you by – Conn Law PC, a California-Based Consumer Protection Law Firm that focuses on Lemon Law and Auto Fraud

In the glitzy, over-the-top 1980s, when Wall Street yuppies with slicked-back hair were snapping up luxury cars like they were going out of style, the Audi 5000 hit the American market. With its European flair and sleek design, it was the perfect accessory for those Gordon Gekko wannabes who wanted to look sophisticated while cruising down to their next hostile takeover. Unfortunately for Audi, the 5000 turned out to be less “Wolf of Wall Street” and more “Lamb to the Slaughter.”



See, the Audi 5000 had this little issue where it allegedly liked to take off like a bat out of hell without any warning. Imagine it: you’re on a date, trying to impress the girl you met at the wine bar before you go back to your apartment to listen to the latest Huey Lewis cd, and instead of a smooth ride, your car decides it’s auditioning for “The Fast and the Furious.” Talk about ruining the mood.

It all started innocuously enough. A few drivers reported their cars suddenly accelerating, and Audi initially thought, “Eh, what’s a few complaints?” But then came the big one: “60 Minutes,” the 1980s TV powerhouse known for taking down anything from corrupt politicians to shady companies. In a now-infamous segment, they featured teary-eyed drivers recounting horror stories of their Audi 5000s taking off like DeLoreans hitting 88 miles per hour. They even had some sketchy footage of an Audi going berserk in a controlled environment, which was later revealed to be about as legit as Milli Vanilli’s live performances.

As you might expect, the lawsuits started pouring in faster than perms and leg warmers went out of style. Americans, already baffled by the quirky nuances of European cars (wait, the ignition is where?), were convinced that Audi had engineered a deathtrap. Never mind that the real issue, as the NHTSA would later determine, was drivers mistaking the gas pedal for the brake. Who needs facts when you have sensationalism, right?

60 Minutes ran a story on the Audi 5000 complete with faked up acceleration

Audi’s defense was as elegant as their cars were supposed to be. They claimed the problem was American drivers, who apparently couldn’t grasp the subtlety of pedals positioned closer together than in their gas-guzzling Detroit monstrosities. It was like giving a Rubik’s Cube to someone who thinks Tic-Tac-Toe is a challenge.

Despite the findings, Audi’s reputation in the U.S. was toast. Sales nosedived faster than a wannabe preppie’s credibility. Dealerships became ghost towns, with forlorn salesmen left trying to hawk these misunderstood marvels to anyone brave (or ignorant) enough to give them a shot.

Ironically, even with the so-called acceleration issue, the Audi 5000 was still a better ride than some of the American alternatives. Remember the 1980s American car scene? It was a parade of mediocrity. You had the Ford Pinto, which had a penchant for turning into a fireball, and the Chevy Citation, which was about as exciting as, well, a citation. So yeah, Audi 5000 owners could at least take solace in the fact that while their car might have tried to impersonate a rocket ship, it was still more refined than the clunkers rolling out of U.S. factories.

Audi eventually clawed its way back from the brink, but the unintended acceleration saga remains a cautionary tale. It’s a reminder that in the cutthroat world of automotive sales, one bad PR hit can send you from the top of the yuppie’s wish list to the bottom of the used car lot. And if nothing else, it gave us a quintessentially 80s lesson: even when you’re down, you can still look damn good doing it.