• Dec 2, 2010
IIHS small car bumper crash tests – Click above for high-res image gallery

As you're likely aware, all cars must pass strict federal guidelines in order to be sold in America, and those regulations include specific bumper heights. What you may not know, however, is that trucks and SUVs aren't required to meet the same guidelines as passenger cars. Factor in the huge numbers of SUVs and crossovers that are sold each year and you begin to see why can cause major problems.

Perhaps the best way to illustrate this conundrum is by way of a photo gallery, which the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has so thoughtfully provided. As is the Institute's custom, it has gone ahead and crashed a small sedan head-to-head into a typical SUV from the same automaker at low speeds (10mph). The results are conclusive, and they mean big repair bills for the owner (or, naturally, their insurance company) of the smaller car. Despite the modest velocities, repair estimates ranged from $850 to a whopping $6,015.

Of the seven pairs of vehicles damaged-for-a-cause in this round of low-speed testing, the Honda Civic and CR-V performed the best, with bumpers that actually overlapped by more than two inches. By way of contrast, the Toyota Corolla and RAV4 performed the worst. Says Joe Nolan, the Institute's chief administrative officer:
The RAV4's so-called bumper is really just a stamped piece of sheet metal supporting the bumper cover. So instead of engaging a strong bumper, the striking Corolla hit the spare tire mounted on the RAV4's tailgate. The spare isn't designed to absorb crash energy, so it damaged the Corolla's hood, grille, headlights, air conditioner, and radiator support and crushed the RAV4's tailgate and rear body panels.
Ouch. For a complete visual understanding of all the carnage, be sure to check out our high-res image gallery below. And for more explanation on each pair's results – including the Ford Focus and Escape, Kia Forte and Hyundai Tucson and Nissan Sentra and Rogue – click past the break for the official press release.

[Source: Insurance Institute for Highway Safety]
Show full PR text
Huge cost of mismatched bumpers:

When bumpers on cars and SUVs don't line up (and many of them don't), low-speed collisions produce more damage and higher repair costs

ARLINGTON, VA - Bumpers are the first line of defense against costly damage in everyday low-speed crashes. Bumpers on cars are designed to match up with each other in collisions, but a long-standing gap in federal regulations exempts SUVs from the same rules. New Insurance Institute for Highway Safety crash tests demonstrate the results: SUV bumpers that don't line up with those on cars can lead to huge repair bills in what should be minor collisions in stop-and-go traffic.

"SUVs and cars share the road," says Joe Nolan, the Institute's chief administrative officer. "The problem is they don't share the same bumper rules, and consumers end up paying the price."

A federal standard requires that all cars have bumpers that protect within a zone of 16 to 20 inches from the ground. This means car bumpers line up reasonably well and are more likely to engage during low-speed collisions to absorb energy and prevent damage. No bumper requirements apply to SUVs, pickups, or minivans, so when these vehicles have bumpers they often are flimsier and higher off the ground than bumpers on cars. Plus, SUVs and pickups may not have bumpers at all.

In fender-benders with SUVs, cars often end up with excessive damage to hoods, engine cooling systems, fenders, bumper covers, and safety equipment like lights. SUVs don't always come out unscathed either, often needing extensive work.

The Institute conducted 10 mph front-into-rear crash tests involving 7 pairs of 2010-11 models, each composed of a small car and small SUV from the same automaker.

"We picked vehicles from the same manufacturer because we think automakers should at the least pay attention to bumper compatibility across their own fleets," Nolan explains. "The results show that many don't."

In the tests, an SUV going 10 mph struck the back of its paired car, which was stopped. Then the configuration was reversed, with the car striking the back of its paired SUV. Results of these low-speed impacts varied widely, from a total of $850 damage to one vehicle to $6,015 damage to another. In some cases, the crash damage included major leaks from broken radiators and cooling fans. If these collisions had happened in the real world, the motorists wouldn't have been able to drive away. If they did, their vehicles could overheat, and the engines could be ruined.

Mismatched pairs: If bumpers don't match up, they'll bypass each other when vehicles collide, and the resulting crash energy will crumple the vehicle body. That's what happened when the Nissan Rogue struck the back of the Nissan Sentra in the SUV-into-car test. The Rogue's front bumper didn't line up at all with the Sentra's rear bumper, and the resulting $4,560 rear damage tally for the Sentra was the highest among all the cars in this test. The impact crumpled the car's bumper cover, trunk lid, and rear body. The Rogue ended up with a crushed and leaking radiator that kept the SUV from being driven after the test.

Bumper height mismatch contributed to pricey damage when the Ford Escape struck the rear of the Ford Focus. Their bumpers overlapped less than 2 inches, not enough to protect the Focus's rear body and trunk lid from $3,386 in repairs.

"The mismatch problem with the Ford pair was even worse when the Focus struck the back of the Escape. The front bumper on the car underrode the high-riding Escape's rear bumper, which at 25 inches off the ground is the tallest among all the small SUVs evaluated this time around. Damage to the Focus came to $5,203 and included replacing most of the sheet metal plus many parts in front of the engine.

When the Toyota Corolla hit the rear of the Toyota RAV4 in the car-into-SUV test, damage amounted to nearly $10,000 for the pair - the highest combined test damage among all of the vehicle pairs the Institute evaluated. The RAV4 accounted for about $6,000 of the bill.

"The RAV4's so-called bumper is really just a stamped piece of sheet metal supporting the bumper cover," Nolan explains. "So instead of engaging a strong bumper, the striking Corolla hit the spare tire mounted on the RAV4's tailgate. The spare isn't designed to absorb crash energy, so it damaged the Corolla's hood, grille, headlights, air conditioner, and radiator support and crushed the RAV4's tailgate and rear body panels."

Compatible bumpers: Bumpers on Honda's CR-V and Civic were the most compatible in the test in which an SUV strikes the rear of a car, and at $2,995 the pair had the lowest combined estimated damage in this crash test. The Civic's $1,274 damage was the lowest among the cars. The CR-V is one of only 3 SUVs whose front bumpers overlapped half of the rear bumpers on the cars they hit.

"The CR-V's front bumper overlapped the Civic's rear bumper by more than 2 inches. That may not sound like much, but it's enough to allow the bumpers to do what they're supposed to do," Nolan says.

When the Kia Forte struck the back of the Hyundai Tucson, their bumpers matched up well enough to keep the Forte from underriding the SUV, limiting damage to a combined $3,601 for both vehicles. The Forte's $1,510 repair estimate was the lowest among cars in the car-into-SUV test.

The Tucson-Forte pair's bumpers also did a good job of lining up in the SUV-into-car test. The Tucson's $850 damage estimate was better than the other SUVs, and it was the only SUV that didn't have a damaged air-conditioning condenser.

Despite bumpers that aligned, results for the Forte weren't as good. The Forte had more than $3,000 rear damage because its bumper broke during impact. The car's rear body panel also was damaged.

"Of the 7 car-SUV pairs we tested, we can't point to a single one as a model of compatibility because combined damage estimates run into thousands of dollars for even the best performers," Nolan says. "In the real world that money comes straight out of consumers' wallets through deductibles and insurance premiums. Regulating SUV bumpers would ease the burden."

Regulate SUV bumpers: The Institute in July 2008 petitioned the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to regulate bumpers on SUVs and pickups the same as cars, and require them to match up in a way that shields both vehicles from costly damage. The agency in June 2009 agreed to seek comments on the petition but hasn't moved forward with a rulemaking or a low-speed compliance test for bumpers.

Regulators have long said that requiring light trucks to have bumpers would compromise off-road maneuverability and make it hard to use these kinds of vehicles at loading ramps. The Institute counters that very few SUVs and pickups are used off road. In addition, bumpers aren't the limiting factor in most vehicles' approach and departure angles. Instead air dams, bumper covers, exhaust pipes, and other trim mounted lower than the bumpers get in the way.

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    • 1 Second Ago
      Take it from someone who knows. It gets hot in the south, and reliable air conditioning repair in Arlington, VA is a must. So I employed the services at http://www.croppmetcalfe.com/air_conditioning_heating/air_conditioners.aspx because no one wants to get all sweaty or suffer from heat stroke. Don’t wait too long to keep cool.
      • 4 Years Ago
      Actually,a simple solution...

      Everbody should drive a truck or suv !!!

      OR ........

      Add big bumpers on cars and raise them up.

      eg:a Porsche should have a bull bar bumper and sit 2 feet higher up,why lower the trucks or suv's...

      Nanny state lovers love so-called fairness,raise the height of cars,thus aligning the bumpers with trucks and suv's,no need for trucks to be lowered,raise cars,simple !

      Furthermore,vehicles will look so ugly if the government,nanny state does this...Remember the 1970's 5 mph bumpers ruined the looks..Also when government gets involved ,as in the 70's with vehicle emissions that actually polluted more because cars had less power and sucked more gas than the big hp of the 60's and early 70's....Remember kids the government is not the answer,its the problem !!

      • 4 Years Ago
      captain obvious would like to have a word with IIHS....
      • 4 Years Ago
      Oh wow! The IIHS must have been out to lunch for years. This is not something new. Cars against trucks or SUV's has always been a mismatch. When they put the bumpers behind plastic the cost naturally went up. And how many cars are repaired without the bumpers shock absorbing material being replaced? Drive carefully and staying at a safe distance between vehicles would solve the problem with no government intervention needed.
      • 4 Years Ago
      I think part of the problem is that we all want too much, too much efficiency, off road prowess, or style. When these are mixed and matched there will be manufacturing discrepancy. We cant expect everythign to line up nicely, a wreck is a wreck is a wreck. What I think we should be more concerned with are the new safety ratings and ensuring that cars continue to increase occupant safety.

      But, I do wish bumpers, were still bumpers rather than stylistic bookends for a vehicle.
      • 4 Years Ago
      "essende 4:01PM (12/02/2010)

      @MiniMe, tougher driving tests/drivers preparation/tougher laws on distracted driving, I guarantee you the accident rates would drop down drastically, look at Europe, if average American would have to spend $1000-2000 just get a driving license, he/she would actually appreciate it more and wouldn't take anything for granted, plus you would be actually trained for various emergency situations. If someone would be caught for talking on cell phone or putting on makeup, automatic license suspension+heft fine and would have to reapply for license again (another 1000-2000), you think people wouldn't drive better then??? Problem in USA is that the entire insurance/lawyer lobby is looking at their pockets and is lobbying for its own interests and doesn't give a crap about individuals. Again, cars are not the problem, people are. Driving is a privilege, not a right."

      I agree with this guy plus some common sense to the drivers. I read news that European drivers do have lower accident rates. I think one country actually want you to drive rally car in the test drive to teach you to be aware of your road conditions all the time when he or she driving.
      • 4 Years Ago
      While this article is interesting, I have to agree with all the commenters lamenting about poorly trained drivers. When you apply logic to the problem of safety on our roads, you inevitably arrive at the revelation that the root cause is driver error. Improving the level of driving will always provide better results than improvements in safety equipment or better roads. When you just assume drivers will inevitably crash, you have already lost.
      • 4 Years Ago
      Perhaps this is just me, but those do not look like head-to-head collisions. And if people are bad enough drivers to rear end others, maybe they deserve the higher damage.

      And a beating.
      • 4 Years Ago
      This a a huge problem, and it is made even worse when you consider many accidents occur under braking, where the car dives even further below the lifting SUV's bumper.
      If they really want to see the worst of it, add a left-on-but-never used trailer hitch to the back of the SUV. It turns into a one-sided jousting match.
      • 4 Years Ago
      This has been an issue for at least the past decade, so this is perhaps the annual push to change things. Good call using sedans and CUVs from the same automakers in tests, as is shows the discrepancy in standards very clearly. No doubt made a little worse if you're braking and your car is diving down a bit.

      I love seeing the pole tests on CUVs too, with the non-existent bumpers doing nothing to prevent thousands in damage in a 5mph collision.

      • 4 Years Ago
      Sure the Corolla in this pic took the most damage, but I guarantee they would have to replace the rear door of that Rav4 as well at a cost of thousands of dollars. That's just a really badly designed rear end. The exterior mounted spare tire was one reason I didn't buy a Rav4 when I bought a new car last year. I figured it would end up causing more damage to the vehicle in the case of even a minor rear-end collision. That, and it's a pain for city dwellers who have to parallel park since it blocks the view and is likely to leave a dent on someone else's hood.
        • 4 Years Ago
        FTA: "crushed the RAV4's tailgate and rear body panels."
      • 4 Years Ago
      How about those lifted bro trucks? I pray that I never get rear ended by one hit one.
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