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Here’s Why the Yugo Is One of the Worst Cars Ever Made

I recently flew down to Atlanta to review some cars. The cars were a Chevy Corvette ZR1, two Lamborghinis, a supercharged Jaguar, and … a Yugo. Needless to say, I was especially excited by the Yugo.

And you would be, too, because it’s generally agreed that the Yugo is one of the single worst cars ever sold in the United States. And I don’t mean one of the worst cars “at a certain price level” or one of the worst cars “during a certain time period.” I mean that many people consider it to be one of the worst cars ever sold. Maybe the single worst. And I’ve always wanted to find out why.

So I flew down to Atlanta, and I met up with the owner of the Yugo, Austin, who lived in a nice subdivision in a nice house with a nice garage. Parked in the driveway: a fairly new Cadillac SRX. Parked in the garage: one running Yugo, and another Yugo parts car. This man has his priorities straight. Or perhaps his neighbors complained the last time he left his Yugos outside. See the Yugo models for sale near you

Now, for those of you who don’t know anything about the Yugo, allow me to provide a little background. The Yugo was a small hatchback (oddly, there was also a convertible version) that came to the United States from Yugoslavia in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The Yugo was imported by Malcolm Bricklin, the same man who brought us Subaru, although the Yugo had a slightly different purpose: to be the cheapest car in the United States. And, indeed, it was the cheapest car in the United States. It was also one of the worst.

From the moment you walk up to a Yugo, you’re struck by a little bit of sadness. It’s a feeling you don’t get with any other cars. Maybe it’s the fact that the one I drove was the sort of pale yellow that reminds us of an era when the walkie-talkie was considered high technology. Or maybe it’s the fact that this thing has been beaten down by every single one of those “worst cars ever made” lists. But regardless of why you feel it, you feel it. You know you’re going to be disappointed.

It’s especially cheap inside. Although I wouldn’t call the interior unexpectedly awful, I’d definitely say it’s a product of what this car was: not just a 30-year-old vehicle, but a vehicle that was intended, 30 years ago, to be the least expensive on the market. There are only a few buttons. Everything is made from crappy plastic. And the entire dashboard and center console are one single mold. There are only two air vents, both in the center. And you can easily see the giant bolt holding down the seat-belt receiver. So I would say, in terms of interior quality, the Yugo met my expectations.

I was also expecting the driving experience to be quite bad. It met my expectations there, too.

Of course, the Yugo is slow. You knew it would be slow the moment you looked at it, or the moment you heard of its “cheapest car” status, or the moment you did any research on what’s actually powering it (a 55-horsepower 1.1-liter carbureted 4-cylinder). But if you had any doubts about its slowness, they’d be erased the second you opened the hood, when you discovered the engine is sharing its space with the spare tire. And that the spare tire is larger.

The thing that surprised me most about the Yugo’s driving experience was this: Not only is the handling quite vague and floaty, but the ride is rather harsh. Usually, there’s a tradeoff here: A car with a nice, comfortable ride usually has vague, disappointing handling; a car with a harsh ride usually has quick, sporty steering. But somehow, the Yugo’s creators blessed it with both a harsh, jarring ride and poor steering and handling. Considering this today, several weeks after I drove the Yugo, I still find this a little impressive.

Of course, I’m also impressed with just how hilarious it was to be driving down the street in this thing. I drove this car in a rural, pickup-filled exurb well outside Atlanta, which meant I was competing for space on the road with full-size trucks — all of which were about ten times larger than the Yugo and twice as fast. And here I am, with my foot on the floor in this tiny old hatchback, just trying to maintain my speed going up hills, laughing the entire time at the absurdity of enjoying my time behind the wheel of this tiny little car — just 24 hours after driving a Lamborghini.

The Yugo’s owner, Austin — who has a good sense of humor about the whole thing — told me several interesting stories about Yugo ownership. One is that people do approach him at gas stations, armed with full knowledge about what it is — and stunned that there’s a Yugo that’s still on the road. Another relates to his Yugo parts car: He needed a few parts that his Yugo doesn’t have, and it’s cheaper to buy a nonrunning Yugo than try and source individual parts. So what does a Yugo parts car cost? “I traded the guy a hundred bucks and a .22,” Austin told me.

So is it the worst car ever made? Unequivocally, the Trabant I drove several weeks ago is worse — much, much, much worse. On a different level of bad. The Trabant makes the Yugo seem like you’ve gone on “The Price Is Right,” and you’ve won a free trip to Las Vegas, and they’ve sent a limo to pick you up at the airport.

But if you judge the Yugo against other 1980s cars, it’s certainly quite bad. The worst car of its time? Probably. One of the most hilarious cars on the road today? Probably that, too. Find a Yugo for sale

Doug DeMuro is an automotive journalist who has written for many online and magazine publications. He once owned a Nissan Cube and a Ferrari 360 Modena. At the same time.

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Doug Demuro
Doug DeMuro writes articles and makes videos, mainly about cars. Doug was born in Denver, Colorado, and received an economics degree from Emory University in Atlanta. After graduation, Doug spent three years working for Porsche Cars North America. Eventually, he quit his job to become a writer, largely because it meant that he no longer had to wear pants. Doug’s work has been featured in a... Read More about Doug Demuro

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41 COMMENTS

  1. 3000 brand new or 7000 for used800,000 mile used cars. I could buy 2 on income tax. if those 2 cars could last 5 years I would save bookoo money

  2. Back in the late 80’s, I was a General Manager for an exotic car rental company in Southern California. The owner of the company decided he wanted to have the lowest priced, newest cars available for rent to go along with the Porsche’s, Lambo’s, Rolls Royce, MBZ, BMW’s, Corvettes and whatever else we had at the time. He went out and purchased 300 Yugo GV’s. The idea? $9.95 per day, unlimited miles. Well… one day at my office a car transporter shows up and 10 brand new Yugo are on it. I go out to start to stock them in and this is what happened: key broke off in door – 1 car. Key broke off in ignition – 2 cars. Interior door handle broke off, driver side- 1 car. Interior door handle broke off, passenger side – 1 car. I called the local supplier of Yugo’s, a Volvo dealer(!) and requested the replacement parts. Answer? All parts were on back-order for at least 4 months!!! That is 5 out of 10 brand new cars that I had to place out of service. We heavily advertised the $9.95 / day rate on radio and television and when people would come in for that rate, they would always ask, “what kind of car is it?” I would tell them and a solid 90% of the time they would ask, “what can I get for the next step up in price?” They did actually rent, but it was a pretty tough sell. The story doesn’t end there. When Yugo decided they were not going to sell cars in the U.S. any longer, they called their best customer, US! We were offered the last 500 or so cars left for sale on dealer lots (I think it was only California but it may have been on the entire West Coast) and we purchased them for $1,250 each. We literally rented a piece of property near LAX and put (no joke) 300 of the cars there as parts cars and put the remaining cars in the rental fleet. Skip ahead about 5 years and I am now a buyer for a large auto wrecker in Southern California. My boss tells me to go to this address over near LAX and bid on “about 500” cars. You guessed it, I was sent back to my old company to purchase the Yugo’s we purchased way back when. A lot of the cars didn’t even have 25 miles on them and had been scavenged for parts. I did end up making a deal and purchased all the cars (I think it ended up being something like 550 or so) for $137.50 each. If I remember right, we sent 25 cars to each of our 7 locations and crushed the rest. The price for scrap was pretty good at the time.  

  3. I never had one, but the man who said it was the worst should remember, that it was half the price of other cars. That means the others should have been twice as good for what you had to pay for them, but they weren’t. The 80’s had a lot of junk cars. The guy who wrote the article mentioned driving a Lamborghini, and a corvette. I sure hope he isn’t valuing the Yugo based on those cars. You could probably buy 20 or more Yugo’s for the corvette’s price. Who knows how many Yugo’s you would get for 1 Lamborghini. 

  4. Everything was wrong and defective and faulty on my 85 and a half Yugo GV. You read that right that was the sticker year. Strange goo was the first thing to ooze out of the window seal, no tinted glass so upolstry was fading day one, back hatch strut never held open the hatch, I would use my head. Inner door knobs and window crank were breaking on the test drive and lasted maybe a couple weeks until I had to unroll the window with the nub and let myself out using the outside handle. Radio knobs came off in hand, station stuck, and both speakers cracked and gave out. Radio was replaced 3 times as well as the clutch and the ignition replaced multiple times. I owned and pampered it and it struggled to survive 2 years. One time the stick shift came out in my hand, gears would get stuck, not go in gear, and not come out. Highway driving 4th would appear to heat in place and I would have to yank with heavy force to get it out of gear. Down shifting was impossible, first gear useless. It was underpowered and only able to handle the weight of one adult and maybe a child. I was flooring it all the time, it would roll back on hills or slight inclines to a dangerous degree. Signal indicator would tone and blink sporadically, paint on exterior bottom pealed off, the gas cap would not open and even full service stations could not get it open for me, quite embarrassing. This is a brand new pampered cared for car Im talking about. One time it simply would not turn on, another time the key was out and the engine would not turn off! I left it to run out of gas and had it towed, the ignition had disengaged from the motor! Steering was heavy, wheels would squeak, and god help you if you went on a dirt road, the vibrations were enough to shake you to death and split the car apart, and the noise unbearable. Must be like the worst earthquake ever?  Cardboard interior panels had bent coners, apparently a paperclip held the door released to the door. I drove my family to church in it and that was the first and last time any of them would ever get in it. It did not want to be a car, it was scary because you’d never know what next would fail, just leaving it parked in a parking space I was terrified of what would go wrong. The battery was an ancient type where you have to put water in the cells, interior to trunk you could indent the floor with your hands and leave impressions, seems the floor was some sort of mush? Seams between the dash and pillars had plastic with exposed glue mushed in them to cover the gaps which the plastic was torn in shape not cut. It was constantly in the shop, after an oil change and filter change which I did early you could really feel a drastic improvement in the driving for a tiny while as if you bought a new car, so how bad was it that between oil changes it was dying? Breaks were stiff but did work decent, and the seats were not ergonomic and hurt because the contours were not decently designed, but the seats did stay in place and lock in position and recline well. Rear was cramped. Foam around air vent sliding knobs was torn. So Yugos were crap, and should never have been sold here, the army took the remainders off the final boats and rammed them in the desert to destroy the remaining ones. There is no chance in hell any of these was decent like anyone may allude to. Door chime stopped working oh and my God dash lights were burnt out and rear break lights burning out, every Yugo had lights out new! Im sure i’m forgetting some other horrific things. Childrens toys are better made and last longer, when I tried to teach my brother to drive in it he was panicking and wanted to get out of it, he said it was like being in a go-cart and that is an ample description like a well painted go-cart did they not make or test parts to see how long they’d last or how they’d hold up to use? I think they forgot this step in making Yugos. I have ptsd from my Yugo! And many were abandoned on the sides of roads and the dealer usually about 40 being worked on in the garage! 

    • Weird. My ’86 has absolutely none of the issues yous did.
      All the lights work. The dash chime is fading away but that wasn’t Zastava’s fault- Chrysler made that part lol.

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