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As much as we like to think our modern cars are getting better and safer, apparently they can't beat an old Escort when it comes to low-speed collision damage. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) just released a report detailing their latest test results for the bumpers of midsize cars. More specifically, they tested how their bumpers held up to low-speed 3 and 6 mph impacts. "Most bumpers on midsize cars do little to resist damage in the kinds of low-speed collisions that are common in commuter traffic and parking lots," is how the report begins. And it only gets worse from there. Out of the 17 cars tested, only three managed to stay under the $1500 level for each of the four impact tests the agency conducted. "Our tests measure how well bumpers protect cars from damage in everyday bumps," says Institute president Adrian Lund. "The whole purpose of bumpers is to keep damage away from headlights, hoods, and other parts that are expensive to repair, but this purpose was accomplished in only two of the 68 tests we conducted. In the rest, what we found is that bumpers aren't up to the job."
And apparently they aren't even doing as good a job as a 1981 Ford Escort. That model was chosen because it is indicative of the kind of bumpers required in the pre-Reagan-era 5 mph crash standards. Reagan rolled back the standard to 2.5 mph starting in 1982 and since then, bumpers have never been the same. The test itself changed a couple of times and now the IIHS is using a three and six mph battery of tests that tries to approximate the kinds of front and rear impacts that are the most common in the real world. They state that these low speed impacts, with sub $4,500 insurance claims, end up accounting for more than $6 billion in claims each year. Newer auto designs, particularly in the bumpers, often lead to mismatched bumper heights in collisions. If the impact isn't a straight bumper-on-bumper affair, one vehicle's bumper will often over- or under-ride the other's, striking the other vehicle's grille and/or lights, which are more expensive to repair. The full report explains the testing procedures more thoroughly and gives a detailed analysis of the costs incurred by each of the tested cars. Total combined damage for the four tests ranged from $4,277 for the Mitsubishi Galant, to more than $9,000 for the VW Jetta and Nissan Maxima.

[Source: IIHS]


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  • 28 Comments
      • 8 Years Ago
      Hmmmmmm, I am a fan of Mitsubishi and I've been following them closely so I will give an example of what Mitsubishi is actually doing to adress this problem in a 2008 Lancer. The front bumper will basically be made up of 3 separate parts that will be removable on their own. The left side of the bumper, the center bumper, and the right side of the bumper have been made into separate pieces to decrease the costs in low-speed collisions. I think this is the right way to do it. Best balance between actual safety, aesthetics, and performance of a car. Find a way to minimize the repair costs.
      • 8 Years Ago
      What we need, is to go back to 1980s bumpers that protrude 8" in front of the car, and all around. Our cars will be much safer.
      • 8 Years Ago
      ....Great... because people don't know how to drive, and aren't willing to pay for thier mistakes, now "we" in the design industry will have to design cow catchers (remember those old trains?) for the fronts of all new cars....
      • 8 Years Ago
      no, #1, accidents happen. that's why they call them accidents. maybe if you "designers" "designed" it right then perhaps costs would come down and i could save on my insurance. i mean, what part of the word "bumper" don't you get. so if you get paid for "designing" do your job or go "design" for matchbox and quit blaming everyone else.
      • 8 Years Ago
      Too bad they don't test what happens when a smaller car runs into the back end of an SUV and the HOOD of the small car takes the brunt of the damage.

      And, aesthetics aside, that ford tempo was well engineered. it was supported by two spring loaded pistons that would absorb basically all the energy of impact... unless the vehicle in front of it happened to have a high enough bumper that the tempo's bumper misses it, then the grill and hood still gets all knarled up.

      and #1 'M'... Suck it up, or cry me a river. im playing you the worlds smallest violin right now.
      • 8 Years Ago
      These tests had nothing to do with safety and everthing to do with the stupid insurance companies not wanting to pay which is why we have insurance in the first place. They want to be able to take your money and then not have to pay for any damages. Next thing you know they will either a) charge you more or b) not cover your car at all because it doesn't meet their stupid "standard" all in the name of greed.
      • 8 Years Ago
      MattS has it right with number 5. You can have a car that is has big solid bumpers that can shrug off impact with another car, but they will also kick the crap out of any pedestrian in an impact. Now you may say "who cares" but in Europe they actually have pedestrian impact laws. Currently you can meet both the American bumper standards and the European pedestrian standards. If you start cranking the bumper standard up, you won't be able to. Once again the barrier to entry of the American marketplace will go up.
      • 8 Years Ago
      Wait, is this autoblog? I would expect comments like this on soccermomblog.com maybe. Are these the same people who drool all over new sports cars and complain when cool European cars can't come to the US because of some "dumb" US standard they can't meet. Well THESE are those dumb standards. I'm with #1. Quit hitting things! I guess you guys will all be in heaven when the US spec 911 has a 3'x8'x1' chunk of Nerf stapled to the front, so you can bounce around in a parking lot like a bumper car at Coney Island.
      • 8 Years Ago
      The article opens with this:

      "As much as we like to think our modern cars are getting better and safer, ..."

      The test had nothing to do with safety. It was all about damage, costs and claims. It also seems to have made no claim as to whether these cars meet the federal standards or not. It simply points out that costs are higher than they used to be. Oh-Kay.

      It also isn't about judging 'better'. Sure, the ability to take an impact isn't better, but they certainly look a lot better. Anyone really want to go back to cars that look like a 1981 Escort or Tempo?

      The other thing that wasn't mentioned was how much extra would a car cost if it had 5 MPH bumpers compared to the cost of repair? How much extra weight which translates into extra fuel? Pay for the prevention or pay for the cure.
      • 8 Years Ago
      Everyone lobby your Congressmen to pass laws to legislate those "design industry" bastards!

      We pay thousands of dollars for nothing because they think their designs are all that!
      • 8 Years Ago
      did you say "everyday bumps"? please don't park anywhere near me.

      to everybody bitching at the designer, get over it. yeah, your car's going to take some damage when you hit something. it might look a little ugly afterwards. it's either that or it can look ugly from the day you buy it, and it won't look so much uglier after an accident. (i.e. old escort, no offense to any escort fans) i'll go ahead and take something good looking from the start and take responsibility for keeping it that way.
      • 8 Years Ago
      "OK, so which do you want?

      A) A vehicle that has crumple zones, and thus crumples upon impact, or do you want a solid steel bar in front that doesn't give and transfers the impact on the passenger compartment?

      B) A smooth, aerodynamic bumper cap that gets damaged when it makes contact with another object ro do you want a solid steel bar that adds weight to the vehicle, decreasing MPG and hampering handling characteristics.

      You can't have it all."

      That much may be true, however, the price to replace very commonly damaged parts should be lower. Every one of the car manufacturers sees car parts as another revenue source. Although I don't have numbers, I bet the actual cost of parts is far, far less than what gets charged. If one had to pay retail price for every part required to build a $20K car, it would probably cost nearly $100K. There is no reason for body parts to be so expensive even accounting for inventory and distribution costs.
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