What are suicide doors? And why are suicide doors so called?

Reverse hinged doors, commonly referred to as suicide doors, are a rare sight on today’s roads as there are just 13 models across the world on sale today.

But how did suicide doors come about and how did they get a name that sends marketing pros scuttling for the hills at its very utterance?

I’ve heard of them, but what do suicide doors look like?

You could, of course, check out our list of the 13 cars available for purchase today that have suicide doors. Or you just could just spend a few minutes checking out our gallery below.

How did reverse hinged doors come about?

Back in the days of horse drawn carriages, reverse hinged doors were a common feature on coaches. That’s because it’s easier to enter or exit a car with reverse hinged doors. This is especially true if you’re of the fairer gender and are attired in a dress or skirt.

Why are suicide doors so called?

In the horse drawn era reverse or back hinged doors didn’t have the ugly stigma of suicide attached to them. That only came about when the vehicles powered by internal combustion engines began being popular.

The shape of early automobile bodies grew from designs of horse-drawn carriages, except, of course, our equine friends were replaced by a long hood to house the engine. This meant that quite a few cars featured reverse hinged doors either at the front or back or both.

Unfortunately back then car engineers didn’t have computers that could compute pi to trillions of decimal places, robots that can spot weld down to the picometre or an advanced understanding of aerodynamics. So, cars back then didn’t have particularly rigid bodies and door locks didn’t always perform the act of latching as well as they should.

This meant that doors would often pop open in the event of an accident or, it’s claimed, when cars were travelling at speed and/or hurtling around corners. In a car with front hinged doors (like the ones on practically all of our cars today) these occurrences wouldn’t be too much of an issue. In a car with rear hinged doors, however, they could be life threatening.

For a car with front hinged doors travelling at reasonable speed, the air rushing past a car’s body effectively pushes it in as it hits the hinged portion first. This aerodynamic effect allows you to drive down the road with a door closed but not fully latched, and not have it fly open to everyone’s alarm. If, for whatever reason, a rear hinged door becomes slightly unlatched, the air rushing past the car catches the leading edge of the door and is, in effect, trying to open the door.

Combine this flaw with the lack of seat belts and you can see why some people thought that sitting in a car with rear hinged doors was akin to a suicide mission.

Just don’t say the word “suicide”

Car makers would rather you stay away from the term suicide doors, because the association with self-inflicted death isn’t exactly a marketing MBA’s wet dream. Instead automakers have coined a plethora of new terms to describe reverse-hinged doors:

Ford: panel doors
Mazda: Freestyle doors
Mini: Clubdoor
Nissan: Wide Open rear doors
Opel/Vauxhall: FlexDoors
Rolls-Royce: coach doors
Toyota: rear access doors

How they work…

In today’s world, naming isn’t the only thing that differentiates suicide doors, they also come in two main designs.

There are suicide rear doors that are latched against the front doors. This prevents the rear doors from opening opening when the front doors are closed. Cars with the need for hidden half-size doors, such as some “coupes”, like the Mazda RX-8 or Saturn Ion Quad Coupe, and extended cab utes, often use this arrangement.

Then there are the tradional full-size reverse hinged doors. These doors are latched against a solid non-moving part of the car’s bodywork, typically the B-pillar that sits alongside the driver and passenger seats.

Categories: Featured Post, Features

Derek Fung

Derek Fung

Derek has a lifelong love for all things automotive, from the dullest Camry to record shattering Bugattis. Prior to starting up Between the Axles he was a reviewer for CNET Australia and the founding editor of its Car Technology channel. [Read more]