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Seeing Is Not Believing

On November 17, 1992, the NBC television investigative news magazine show Dateline NBC broadcast a segment alleging safety defects in the 1973-1987 General Motors (GM) C/K pickup truck design. The episode showed a filmed demonstration of an alleged 30 mph car-into-truck side collision that resulted in a fire, implying a problem with the truck's fuel tank. The broadcast was contemporaneous with a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) investigation of the C/K trucks.

 


 


 

Exponent engineers investigated the test performed for NBC by The Institute for Safety Analysis (TISA). Analysis of the test videos and inspections of the fuel tank and incendiary device led to the conclusion that the crash test had been rigged to produce a fire which was not the natural result of the collision as claimed by Dateline NBC.  Video analysis also revealed that the televised collision was closer to 40 mph than 30 mph reported.  In March 1993, Dateline NBC retracted its conclusions and apologized to both GM and its viewers.  The incident redefined the use and quality control of tests performed for television.