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IIHS Roof Strength Crash Test – Click above for high-res image gallery

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety isn't waiting around for the federal government to enact tougher roof strength standards for passenger vehicles. The IIHS has created its own new category of roof strength standards that requires a strength-to-weight ratio of 4 times a vehicle's weight to earn the highest rating of good. Federal standards are currently 1.5 times a vehicle's weight, with a proposed increase to 2.5 times still pending.

The IIHS used a batch of 12 small SUV/CUVs as guinea pigs for the new standard, and only four were rated good: the Volkswagen Tiguan, Subaru Forester, Honda Element and Jeep Patriot. The Suzuki Grand Vitara, Chevrolet Equinox, Toyota RAV4, Nissan Rogue and Mitsubishi Outlander were rated acceptable with strength-to-weight ratios of at least 3.25. The Honda CR-V and Ford Escape achieved a marginal rating with scores of at least 2.5 and the Kia Sportage was rated Poor with a score below 2.5.

The IIHS roof strength crash test is conducted by pushing a metal plate at constant speed against one side of a vehicle's roof. In order to earn a good rating, a vehicle's roof must withstand a force of 4 times the vehicle's weight before reaching 5 inches of crush. Earning the roof strength test's highest rating will also be a new requirement for the Institute's Top Safety Pick awards. As a result, the list of winners for 2010 will likely be much smaller than last year's. Eight of the small SUV/CUVs tested by the IIHS were previous Top Safety Picks, but only three would earn the award with these new standards.

[Source: Insurance Institute for Highway Safety]



ARLINGTON,VA-The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety is launching a new roof strength rating system to help consumers pick vehicles that will help protect them in rollover crashes. Twelve small SUVs are the first to be put to the test. Only 4 earn the top rating of good. The Volkswagen Tiguan has the strongest rated roof and the Kia Sportage has the weakest among the 2008-09 models evaluated.

This new rating system is based on Institute research showing that occupants in rollover crashes benefit from stronger roofs. Vehicles rated good must have roofs that are more than twice as strong as minimum federal safety standards require.

The Tiguan, Subaru Forester, Honda Element, and Jeep Patriot earn good ratings. The Suzuki Grand Vitara, Chevrolet Equinox, Toyota RAV4, Nissan Rogue, and Mitsubishi Outlander are rated acceptable. Roofs on the Honda CR-V and Ford Escape are marginal, and the Kia's is poor.

"We anticipate that our roof strength test will drive improved rollover crash protection the same way that our frontal offset and side impact consumer test programs have led to better protection in these kinds of crashes," says
Institute president Adrian Lund.

Institute research indicates that roofs have gotten stronger during the past few years. Part of the reason is that manufacturers have made structural improvements to earn better front and side ratings in Institute crash tests. Strong A and B pillars help prevent intrusion in these types of crashes and also help hold up the roof.

"It's not surprising that Volkswagen and Subaru earn good ratings in our new roof test because these automakers were among the first to ace our front and side tests," Lund points out.

More than 10,000 people a year are killed in rollovers. When vehicles roll, their roofs hit the ground, deform, and crush. Stronger roofs crush less, reducing the risk that people will be injured by contact with the roof itself. Stronger roofs also can prevent occupants, especially those who aren't using safety belts, from being ejected through windows, windshields, or doors that have broken or opened because the roof has deformed. Roofs that don't collapse help keep people inside vehicles as they roll.

Any vehicle can roll over in a crash, but the problem is worse in some kinds of vehicles than others. About 25 percent of occupant deaths in crashes of cars and minivans involve rolling over. For SUVs, this proportion jumps to 59 percent.

The best way to prevent the deaths is to keep vehicles from rolling over in the first place. Electronic stability control is significantly reducing rollovers, especially fatal single-vehicle ones. When vehicles do roll, side curtain airbags help protect the people inside. Belt use is essential.

How roofs are evaluated:
In the Institute's roof strength test, a metal plate is pushed against 1 side of a roof at a constant speed. To earn a good rating, the roof must withstand a force of 4 times the vehicle's weight before reaching 5 inches of crush. This is called a strength-to-weight ratio. For an acceptable rating, the minimum required strength-to-weight ratio is 3.25. A marginal rating value is 2.5. Anything lower than that is poor.

The ratings depend on vehicle weight, which in turn depends on vehicle options like engine size and 2-wheel vs. 4-wheel drive. The Institute has based its ratings on the typical small SUV, which tends to be 4-wheel drive and comes with a 4-cylinder engine and automatic transmission. Heavier and lighter versions of these vehicles are available, and their actual rollover injury risk would vary by small amounts. The Institute's ratings provide an
indication of the relative risk of similarly equipped vehicles.

The small SUVs that did well in the new test have roofs that are 2.5 to 3.5 times stronger than the minimum federal safety standard for roof strength. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has proposed a new standard but not as tough as the Institute recommends. The agency has argued that upgrading the requirements would have only a limited impact on rollover deaths and injuries. Institute research indicates otherwise.

"Our research shows that a strength-to-weight ratio of 4 reflects an estimated 50 percent reduction in risk of serious and fatal injury in single-vehicle rollover crashes compared with the current federal standard of 1.5," Lund explains.

Cars have been built to meet the same roof crush standard, Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 216, since 1973. The rule was extended in 1994 to include all passenger vehicles up to a gross weight rating of 6,000 pounds. Many SUVs and pickups are heavier, so they're exempt. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in 2005 proposed an upgrade to cover these larger vehicles and require roofs on all passenger vehicles to have a strength-to-weight ratio of 2.5. Many vehicles already meet this ratio and would earn only a marginal rating in the Institute's new roof strength test. A final rule is still pending.

Roof ratings added to award criteria: A good roof strength rating will be a new requirement to earn the Institute's TOP SAFETY PICK award for 2010. This is the second time criteria for this award have been tightened since the first winners were announced in 2005. Availability of electronic stability control became a requirement starting with 2007s.

"Adding TOP SAFETY PICK criteria means we'll see fewer winners in 2010," Lund says. A record 73 vehicles have qualified for the 2009 award so far, and 8 of the 2009 winners are among the 12 small SUVs the Institute just tested for roof strength. However, only 3 of the 8 - the Tiguan, Forester, and Element - have the roof strength to qualify for next year's award.

Next the Institute will assess roof strength on minicars and midsize cars.

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 6 Years Ago
      Another reason to buy a Subaru!
        • 6 Years Ago
        Honda did both very well and marginal so that really would be cherry picking.
        Either way since people shop for cars by model it's a moot point.

        I think the forester is probably one of the safest as far as rollovers go though, because it also has a pretty low center of gravity in addition to having earned the good. But I think anything acceptable or above is fine, the only vehicles I'd really worry about are the marginal and poor ones.

        Kia needs to get to work though-all the fanboyish Hyundai/Kia comments I keep reading on autoblog seem oblivious to the rather obvious fact that Hyundai/Kia is the only car company to make a vehicle that got a poor rating.
        • 6 Years Ago
        Kia and Hyundai are competitors. Hyundai have been releasing 5star all around crash test rated cars recently. Hyundai has changed alot in the past 5 years
        • 6 Years Ago
        Yes, both the Element and CR-V look to survived well. That Kia and Ford looks scary.
        • 6 Years Ago

        Check out the logo icon I use and be not surprised.
        • 6 Years Ago
        Go Subaru! But in all honesty, this is just the IIHS reiterating what the European car mfgrs. already have known for years. Somehow, I think the europeans have figured out how to increase roof strength w/o detracting from the cars themselves (thinking M3, 911 etc)....i mean, unless people here are implying that Americans are too dumb to figure it out like our European brethren?

        My guess is that it'll blow over and people will make stronger roofs; and lives will be saved, and people won't notice it anyways.
      • 6 Years Ago
      That's assuming they *know* that the IIHS is part of the private sector. I don't think most of them bother to read that far.
      • 6 Years Ago
      Hard to tell that there's any damage on the Tiguan at all.
        • 6 Years Ago
        Check out the group photo.... back right corner silver car... looks like a VW Tiguan with roof smashed-in like other cars as well. Don't think the solo blue VW Tiguan was from the same test!!!!
      • 6 Years Ago
      I find it telling that so many conservatives are bitching and moaning about a private organization testing and giving safety ratings to cars. Apparently it is unconservative to provide people with information so they can make their own purchasing decisions.
      • 6 Years Ago
      So won't all this increase weight and affect fuel efficiency?
        • 6 Years Ago
        "This is not a government standard."

        I know. It will be, though.
        • 6 Years Ago
        This is not a government standard.
        • 6 Years Ago
        At fixit:

        It's interesting that you mention that. I looked at a comparison in height of a Jeep Patriot versus an old Cherokee. What I noticed was that where the Cherokee was the same height as the Patriot, it had more ground clearance. Its silhouette looks more like a station wagon raised up than what we think of as "an SUV".

        SUVs of today aren't like the SUVs of yesterday. Now instead of being taller because they have ground clearance and are actually off-road capable, they're artificially made taller by increasing the floor-to-ceiling height because people have decided that SUVs are supposed to have a tall roof.

        I personally would prefer the traditional raised station wagon look of the Cherokee to the steroid-infused Patriot SUV lookalike of today. I think it looks a lot more elegant and attractive.
        • 6 Years Ago
        I'd rather see the small SUVs lowered 1 or 2 inches than increase their weight much.

        Almost none of these are capable off-road anyway.
        • 6 Years Ago
        "So won't all this increase weight and affect fuel efficiency?"

        What in the hell are you talking about? This is a private organization testing and giving ratings. Nobody is adding anything and the government has nothing to do with it.
      • 6 Years Ago
      In related news, IIHS announced all vehicles to reinforcement entire passenger cabin with armor and 200 airbags because now the vehicles are so heavy the doors can no longer prevent penetration in a T-bone.

      ...Later, in related news, the roof strength requirement has been increased again due to added weight of the vehicle caused by the structural reinforcement that was caused by the 2009 roof requirements...

      Also congress now demands all vehicles to get 50 mpg and opened an investigation into why vehicle prices have doubled...
      • 6 Years Ago
      A lot of people criticise the Patriot saying it's not a "real" Jeep, but it's a really good little trucklet. It's not trail rated but unless your hard core offroad it will meet your needs. With the Freedom Drive II package it has 9 inch ground clearence, 29 degree approach angle,
      and 33 degree departure angle. Not bad. Plus it has a new interior that is way better than the cheap plasiticky one when it was introduced. And of course it's easier on gas than other Jeeps. Now we know it's good in a rollover situation too.

        • 6 Years Ago
        I can't forgive Jeep for putting that 3.8l from the Dodge Caravan in the Wrangler.
        • 6 Years Ago
        I like the Patriot, and it does have its good points, but I can buy a Suzuki Grand Vitara with a real four-speed transfer case, four wheel drive, and a four cylinder engine, customize it with a 2-inch lift and skid plates (to augment its standard skid plates) and end up with a real offroader that still gets an Acceptable rating in these IIHS tests.

        I think the reason people get irritated by the Patriot is because it still doesn't replace the Cherokee in any meaningful way, and Jeep doesn't provide anything else that comes close either, not even the Liberty. They just don't have the Cherokee's charisma and single-minded off road cred. The Liberty is too heavy and trucklike while the Patriot is too carlike and still too heavy, and it lacks a proper off-roading transmission to boot.
      • 6 Years Ago
      Welcome to your future higher rates Kia owners!

      These test by the insurance industry are the BIGGEST SCAMS to increase people's rates ever created.

      Did anyone see the video of this test? Yeah, how real world is that.

      I want to see Kia perform the same test at a slightly different angle of incidence and get completely different results telling the INSURANCE industry to BITE THEM.
      • 6 Years Ago
      What a rediculous standard. How many people actually die in a rollover that the government feels the need to add more weight and more cost to vehicles. Heres an idea. Teach people to drive. Make a national licensing program that includes different driving conditions. Stop trying to cure idiocy with technology. Youre ruining it for the rest of us.
        • 6 Years Ago
        So when a driver isn't paying attention and rolls the family SUV, the kid in the back who gets killed/maimed had it coming? Stupid.

        Regarding weight/MPG concerns about higher roof-strength standards: the best performers in this test already have roofs that exceed the federal standard by 250-350%, and except for the Tiguan, those models are in the lighter half of the segment, between 3,250 (Patriot, Forester) and 3,500 (Element) lbs.

        The fact that the Element and CR-V ended up on opposite ends of the test results--despite sharing a platform, weighing within 10 lbs of each other, and returning near-identical MPG--should be sufficient evidence that said results have more to do with structural dynamics than weight-hogging "beefiness."
        • 6 Years Ago
        RIGHT ON! Spend this money on driver education and real-life training on how to "avoid accidents", vs. penalizing the auto industry to protect us from ourselves, or the other morons on the road.

        This is gov't excess! Solve the problem at the root cause - driver education!
        • 6 Years Ago
        Please replace "idiocy" with "lack of skill"
        • 6 Years Ago
        Except that I can be the best driver in the world and some idiot will come along and knock me off the road causing a rollover. My driving skill would not come into play.
        • 6 Years Ago
        Adam, if you choose to buy a Ford Explorer with the pancaking roof, fine...

        Remember, this is the INSURANCE Institute.......
        They are testing vehicles to determine what do the best. It has NOTHING to do with the government.
        • 6 Years Ago
        The word is "ridiculous".
        • 6 Years Ago
        It says right in the article if you read it: "More than 10,000 people a year are killed in rollovers."
      • 6 Years Ago
      Is that a true test of the roof's strength? Pushing a plate against it? I would think they would crash the plate into the roof to simulate the effect of force being applied with inertia. Sorta like how crashes happen. How many times have you been in a wreck where your car presses into another? Or does it happen quick; more like a crash?
      • 6 Years Ago
      Shame they havent tested the Volvo XC60 yet!

      Expect it to have got superb results!
      • 6 Years Ago
      I've two things to add to some already good points.

      #1 With the exception of the Kia, every vehicle tested exceeds the proposed standard.

      #2 Stop using the picture for comparison purposes. It's a picture of the vehicle after it's met it's limit, regardless of what the limit is.

      It's a bunch of pretty darned safe vehicles. We should be impressed with all of them, not critical of them.
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