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.
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.
The Institute conducted 10 mph front-into-rear crash tests involving 7 pairs of 2010 to 2011 models, each composed of a small car and small SUV from the same automaker.
Results from the low-speed impacts varied widely, from a total of $850 damage to one vehicle to $6,015 damage to another.
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 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.
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.
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 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.
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.