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Click above for high-res gallery of the IIHS side impact crash tests for full-size trucks

Still think big, muscular trucks equal safety? In the case of the new Dodge Ram, Nissan Titan and Chevy Silverado, not necessarily. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety smashed up the four-door versions of those full-size trucks and, for the most part, found their safety credentials less than stellar.

Let's start with the worst performing of the three. The IIHS says that in its latest round of side-impact crash tests, Chevy's Silverado 1500 gets a Poor rating. Even with the optional side airbags, the Chevy got a Poor. That struck us as odd, so we asked Russ Rader, director of media relations at IIHS, why the truck got a 5-star safety rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. He said it was a combination of a difference in test methods as well as vehicle construction.

"The difference reflects the difference between being hit by a car vs. being hit by another pickup or SUV," Rader said. "The car-like barrier in the government test hits the strong parts of the side structure at rocker panel level, below the test dummy. The Institute's test barrier is taller and higher off the ground, so it's hitting more vulnerable parts of the door."

The Titan also received a Poor side-crash rating from IIHS, but with the optional side airbags improved to Marginal. Dodge's new Ram with standard bags got a marginal side crash rating. We'd be remiss not to mention that the 2009 Ford F-150 and 2009 Toyota Tundra both were already chosen as Top Safety Picks by the IIHS.

Check out the gallery for more photos of the three trucks being smashed to bits by the IIHS, and follow the jump to read the full IIHS press release and see videos of the three trucks during testing.


3 large pickups don't live up to brawny image in side tests; none rates better than marginal for occupant protection

ARLINGTON, VA - The Chevrolet Silverado 1500, Dodge Ram 1500, and Nissan Titan are billed as workhorses, but the side crash protection these 2009 model large pickups provide is wimpy, at best. The trio earns either poor or marginal ratings in side tests by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Even with side airbags, occupant protection in these crew-cab pickups is no better than marginal.

"The size, weight, and height of these large pickups should help them ace the side tests just like the other large pickups we've tested. Not these three," says Institute senior vice president David Zuby. "They perform worse than many cars we've evaluated."

The Dodge Ram with standard side airbags earns a marginal rating. The Nissan Titan and Chevrolet Silverado earn poor ratings when tested without their optional side airbags. The Titan's side rating improves to marginal in models tested with side airbags, while the Silverado's optional side airbags don't improve the rating over models without them. The Silverado's ratings also apply to its twin, the GMC Sierra 1500, both of which were redesigned in 2007, so the ratings apply to 2007-09 models. The Ram is a new design for the 2009 model year. The Titan was introduced in the 2004 model year, so results apply to 2004-09 models.

The Institute's side tests assess occupant protection in vehicles struck in the side by SUVs or pickups. Results can be compared across vehicle type and weight categories, while frontal crash test ratings can't. This is because the kinetic energy involved in the side test depends on the weight and speed of the moving barrier, which are the same in every test. In contrast, the kinetic energy involved in the frontal crash test against an immovable barrier depends on the test vehicle's speed and weight.

The Ram, Titan, and Silverado should have an advantage in side crash tests over smaller vehicles, not just because of their size and weight but also because the dummies' higher seating positions put their heads and shoulders above the striking barrier. Occupants of cars, for instance, are more vulnerable because their bodies are in line with the fronts of vehicles, especially tall ones, which might hit them in the side.

"These large pickups don't have to work as hard as smaller vehicles do to protect their occupants. Even with their characteristic advantages, the Ram, Titan, and Silverado still miss the mark when it comes to occupant protection in side crashes," Zuby says.

Without side torso airbags, occupants are vulnerable: What's behind the lackluster performance? In the Silverado's case, it's a combination of a poor side structure plus the lack of side torso airbags. The truck's optional side curtain airbags are designed to protect occupants' heads, and these worked well. But occupants' upper bodies remain unprotected even with the optional side curtains.

"In the Silverado tests, there was a lot of intrusion into the occupant compartment. With no torso airbags to protect the driver and rear passenger, measures recorded on the test dummies showed that rib fractures and internal organ injuries would be likely in a real-world crash of similar severity," Zuby explains. "Chevy needs to improve the Silverado's side structure, as well as add padding or torso airbags to better protect its occupants."

In contrast, the Ram and Titan's side structures are designed to better limit intrusion. The Ram's side structure/safety cage earns a good rating, while the Titan's earns acceptable marks. The Ram has standard head-protecting side curtain airbags but not torso airbags. Both curtain and side torso bags are optional in the Titan. Adding torso airbags might improve the Ram's side protection. The Titan could be improved with some combination of structural, airbag, or door trim modifications.

"It's certainly possible to design a large pickup that offers good occupant protection in side crashes," Zuby says. Three previously evaluated 2009 models are Institute Top Safety Pick award winners. The Honda Ridgeline, Ford F-150, and Toyota Tundra all have standard side airbags with torso and head protection and good-rated structures.

The Ram would be a Top Safety Pick contender if its side rating improves to good, Zuby notes. Dodge improved the seat/head restraints in the 2009 model to earn a good rating for protection in rear crashes, while the 2006-08 models earned a poor rating. Electronic stability control, another criterion to earn the award, also is standard.

How vehicles are evaluated: The Institute's frontal crashworthiness evaluations are based on results of 40 mph frontal offset crash tests. Each vehicle's overall evaluation is based on measurements of intrusion into the occupant compartment, injury measures recorded on a Hybrid III dummy in the driver seat, and analysis of slow-motion film to assess how well the restraint system controlled dummy movement during the test.

Side evaluations are based on performance in a crash test in which the side of a vehicle is struck by a barrier moving at 31 mph. The barrier represents the front end of a pickup or SUV. Ratings reflect injury measures recorded on two instrumented SID-IIs dummies, assessment of head protection countermeasures, and the vehicle's structural performance during the impact.

Rear crash protection is rated according to a two-step procedure. Starting points for the ratings are measurements of head restraint geometry - the height of a restraint and its horizontal distance behind the back of the head of an average-size man. Seat/head restraints with good or acceptable geometry are tested dynamically using a dummy that measures forces on the neck. This test simulates a collision in which a stationary vehicle is struck in the rear at 20 mph. Seats without good or acceptable geometry are rated poor overall because they can't be positioned to protect many people.

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 6 Years Ago
      frank, you're not quick to blame bush for aggressive deregulation and yet you're eagerly willing to blame the economic damage that california's stricter regulations may cause on obama.

      we can point to bush because these regulatory agencies fall under the executive branch and often a paper trail led directly to the white house, for example when the epa declared post 9/11 lower manhattan air to be safe (contradicting data) on pressure from the white house. do your reading.

      i'm not sure what definition of partisan you go by, but you're showing a bias that skirts reason and ends in emotion.
      • 6 Years Ago
      And Ford yet again distances itself from Chevy and Dodge.

      The poor crash test result of the Silverado are a shocker for me. Seriously, check out the photos from the Colorado crash tests. The way that the Colorado's structure deformed is very similar to the way the Silverado's deformed. (Although to be fair the Colorado's structure deformed considerably more.)



      I guess like son, like father, in this case.
      • 6 Years Ago
      A few things to think about. The Silverado is the top scoring pickup in the NHTSA side-impact tests. So obviously, depending on the actual crash, the Silverado could be the best truck to be in. Also, a difference as simple as cab height or tire choice can have a major difference in the results. Contrary to what the article says, weight is a liability in a test like this, not an asset, because the smaller car will provide less resistance to sideways movement. Good if you are being pushed into a ditch. Not good if you are being pushed into a tree. The IIHS test can only be applied in real life in side-impacts on a stationary vehicle, which is not very common at all. When they are moving the heavier mass plays a much more positive role. And they don't necessarily apply to other optional configurations, of which in pickups there are many.

      The problem with any of these crash tests is that they don't always translate to real-world safety, as can be seen by checking fatality rates, which are almost always higher in small cars than large ones. But on the other hand, when you look at the test results from the 2003 era F-150, they have certainly helped to improve overall safety.

      My point is anybody making the comment that these trucks are unsafe is not looking at the whole picture.

      • 6 Years Ago
      First of all, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is a joke, it is just like EPA under Bush, both worked FOR the auto industry, not for the people of the United States of America.

      I really hope that soon Consumer Report will launch its own MPG test and crash testing, that way people will know the actual mileage Prius gets and the actual crash results.

      So sad, the government works against the people.
        • 6 Years Ago
        i thought the epa comparison was apt. the problem is that the election of obama isn't a reset button, we'll be reaping the consequences of excessive deregulation for a long time, from wall street to the grocery store.

        frank shows who's the real partisan with his 'messiah' comment.
        • 6 Years Ago
        Damn, the guys out of office Urchin, let it go. The Messiah has come. He will probably let California dictate safety regs for autos too just like polution regs. You'l love the results!
        • 6 Years Ago
        Homun, i was not referring to "excessive deregulation" at all.

        EPA simply REFUSED to do its job, that is not a deregulation, that......criminal. EPA simply sided with businesses on many important issues.
        • 6 Years Ago
        Sea Urchin: "EPA simply REFUSED to do its job"

        That's a pretty strong accusation. Any chance you've got a fact or example to backup your allegation?

        We're waiting.

        (ps: Sea Urchin: "that is not a deregulation, that......criminal."

        I'm not sure that "refusing" to do their job is "criminal". If it was then Barney Frank, Chris Dodd, Charlie Rangel, and Christopher Cox [amoung others] should all be in handcuffs right now for their apparent negligent oversight in housing, banking, and financial markets.)
        • 6 Years Ago
        @ Not You

        "I'm not sure that "refusing" to do their job is "criminal". If it was then Barney Frank, Chris Dodd, Charlie Rangel, and Christopher Cox [amoung others] should all be in handcuffs right now for their apparent negligent oversight in housing, banking, and financial markets.)"---------------I am up for it, these criminals, Barney in particular should have been arrested long ago. Add Pelosi and Reed to that list.
        • 6 Years Ago

        I think the followup concern about California dictating safety regulations might be a bit misplaced: CA doesn't even have car safety inspections, and we let motorcycles go in between moving cars in traffic.

        But don't let reality interfere with your stereotypes.
        • 6 Years Ago
        Not You, Supreme Court ORDERED EPA to regulate CO2 emissions, they refused to do anything about that and EPA mileage while Bush was in office.
      • 6 Years Ago
      That crash barrier vehicle is rollin' on '86 Taurus LX dubs!
      • 6 Years Ago
      Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, is only looking to see what cars will cost the most damage so they know what kind of premium to charge "insurance" for that particular car. There for a lot of their test are bias.
      • 6 Years Ago
      Keep in mind that the IIHS, despite its advocacy-sounding name, is a lobbying group for the insurance industry.
        • 6 Years Ago
        ...and? If there's one group that's interested in knowing how safe cars are, it's the insurance industry.
      • 6 Years Ago
      lol, did the IIHS rip of Volvo's font for those stickers?
        • 6 Years Ago
        No, Volvo uses some propietary font and the IIHS uses Futura.
      • 6 Years Ago
      You know I think they might be on to something here. I mean, look at the variety of the sizes of cars on the road in America. It makes sense to test how a car would react to getting struck by both small and large cars. There is no just 'one size fits all' in the auto world.
      • 6 Years Ago
      All interesting comments, fellas, but I'm surprised that no one went for the obvious:

      HULK SMASH!!!
      • 6 Years Ago
      The next standard is to hit the truck with a horizontal pole on the dummies face... Decapitate him and say... Wow the truck is no good ... it should have had 2' thick lexan glass bulletproof.
      • 6 Years Ago
      Oh Brother

      Here we go again. It seems like it never fails. Once ratings come out from anything official giving a particular vehicle bad marks for whatever, out come the clan of wolves who either own the vehicle that they either own or a fanboy of making ridiculous statements like "those people hate America", "these people are full of s&!t", "they work for (insert car company) and get paid to make false claims", "they are co-conspirators"..etc

      Sometimes you wolves just need to hush up and deal with it. If some of you remember the F-150 was in hot water a few years back because they were the lowest rated truck when it came to safety. The same went with the previous generations of the Tundra. Both of these companies have toughened up their game over the past few years to make a more solid product, not only just to pass, but to surpass the average ratings. Chevrolet years back had nothing to worry about, however they chose to sit on it and not really having any need to improve, since it was never a serious issue to them. Unfortunately this is what happens when you sit on something for too long and not re-innovate.

      All I can say for those of you crying fowl, you seriously need to look at real facts and just deal with it. Enough with this govt conspiracy BS. Sheesh
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