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Summary
  • Unlike traditional doors that hinge near the front tires, suicide doors are rear-hinged doors on the side of a vehicle. They’re also called coach doors and clamshell doors.
  • Some of the advantages of suicide doors include their aesthetic value and easier entry and exit for passengers.
  • Safety risks and difficult installation are some of the disadvantages of suicide doors.

We get it: traditional front-hinged doors can get boring. To make things more interesting, manufacturers have designed different car doors over the years. The Mercedes Benz 300 SL’s gullwing doors that lift upward and look like a seagull’s wings are classy and eye-catching. Suicide doors that hinge near the rear tires and open backward certainly have the same effect, but given their grim name, there’s bound to be more than meets the eye.

What Are Suicide Doors?

Unlike traditional doors that hinge near the front tires, suicide doors are rear-hinged doors on the side of a vehicle. Manufacturers had different names for these doors, such as coach doors and clamshell doors, but the name, “suicide doors,” stuck because of how dangerous they could be. At high speeds, an unlocked suicide door could blast open, and the passenger could fall out due to the intense airflow.

History of Suicide Doors

The design of the very first vehicles took after horse carriages and coaches, which had doors opening backward. At the time, it was a convenient design choice. It gave passengers plenty of space, especially ladies with their long dresses. There were no seat belts or locks. Rather than safety, people only cared for comfort and convenience.

After World War II, auto manufacturers introduced the idea of car doors opening like gates on four-door sedans. Front doors hinged near the front tires were paired with rear doors hinged at the rear.

modern car with suicide doors on display
Manufacturers had different names for these doors, such as coach doors and clamshell doors, but the name, “suicide doors,” stuck because of how dangerous they could be.

Why Are They Called Suicide Doors?

Over the years, vehicle technology developed, allowing manufacturers to meet the demands of consumers for faster cars. However, faster cars also meant new traffic laws, with several politicians loudly professing their concerns over the safety of drivers and pedestrians alike. One example of this is when four-time US presidential candidate Ralph Nader dubbed rear-hinged doors as “suicide doors” in his book, “Unsafe at Any Speed: The Designed-in Dangers of the American Automobile.” He covered their dangers extensively, which resonated with the public.

This led to standardized seatbelts and proper locks for all auto manufacturers, with suicide doors quickly losing popularity. It didn’t take long before suicide doors were completely phased out, with the 1971 Ford Thunderbird as the last American car produced with this feature.

In the 2000s, suicide doors made a comeback in the form of clamshell doors. They’re rear-hinged back doors that can’t be opened until you open the front doors first. Over the years, several manufacturers have come up with their own safety protocols. For example, Rolls-Royce Phantom’s safety system prevents both doors from opening until the vehicle completely stops.

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Types of Suicide Doors on Cars

Depending on your choice of vehicle, you can find different types of suicide doors. Here are the two most common examples:

Rear Side Doors

Vehicles that feature suicide doors are typically paired with traditional front doors. While the front doors open normally, the rear side doors are hinged on the rear. They both close to latch onto the B-pillar when closed.

Clamshell Doors

Also known as B-pillarless doors, clamshell doors are rear-hinged doors that are also paired with traditional front doors. However, instead of latching onto the B-pillar when closed, the clamshell doors latch onto the front doors instead.

What Are the Advantages of Suicide Doors?

Despite their grim moniker, suicide doors actually come with a fair share of advantages. Here are a few of them:

Aesthetic Value

You have to admit it: suicide doors certainly look very cool. Because they hinge at the rear, they open in a unique and stylish way.

Easier Entry and Exit

The biggest advantage of suicide doors is how much easier it is for passengers to enter and exit the vehicle. In fact, one popular theory behind the name, “suicide doors,” was that gangsters could easily push their enemies out of the doors.

What Are the Disadvantages of Suicide Doors?

Despite their advantages, suicide doors have a few glaring disadvantages that we can’t just ignore.

Safety Issues

Safety is obviously the biggest drawback of suicide doors. Before seat belts and door locks were mandatory, it was too easy for unbelted passengers to fall out of opened suicide doors.

When opening a suicide door on a busy street, you’re also at greater risk of getting crushed by the door if another vehicle crashes into your car. It’s also difficult to design effective side impact protection for vehicles without B-pillars.

Hard To Install

Suicide doors are also hard to install. You’ll have to move the latches, change the hinges, and swap the door frame hardware. Installing them can take a lot of time, effort, and money.

What Are Cars With Suicide Doors?

Contrary to popular belief, suicide doors aren’t a thing of the past. They might have lost their popularity for a while, but you can still find plenty of modern cars with suicide doors. Here are some examples of classic and modern vehicles with suicide doors:

You can also find clamshell doors featured on multiple models of the Honda Element, BMW i3, Mazda RX-8, Toyota FJ Cruiser, and Nissan Juke.

About The Author
Written By Automotive and Tech Writers

The CarParts.com Research Team is composed of experienced automotive and tech writers working with (ASE)-certified automobile technicians and automotive journalists to bring up-to-date, helpful information to car owners in the US. Guided by CarParts.com's thorough editorial process, our team strives to produce guides and resources DIYers and casual car owners can trust.

Any information provided on this Website is for informational purposes only and is not intended to replace consultation with a professional mechanic. The accuracy and timeliness of the information may change from the time of publication.

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