About That Hybrid: Low-Speed Impacts Cost Plenty

Low-speed front and rear impact tests done on 20 small car models showed that many did poorly because of how the cars and their bumpers are designed. The tests simulated what should be "a no-damage event," IIHS said recently. The worst performers were the Hyundai Elantra, Toyota Prius, and Volkswagen Rabbit, which sustained about $4,000 or more in damage from a single test. The Ford Focus performed the best.

"Small cars are supposed to be economical, but there's nothing economical about three or four thousand dollars in repairs after a low-speed collision," said IIHS Senior Vice President Joe Nolan. "Ford did the best job of putting bumpers on a small car that largely do what they're supposed to do. In three of the four tests, the bumpers on the Focus protected sheet metal and most other expensive parts from damage."

The cars experienced four crash tests: full front and rear into a barrier plus front and rear corner impacts. The full impacts were conducted at 6 mph, the corner impacts at 3 mph. "The purpose of a bumper is to absorb the energy of a low-speed collision and slow the vehicles before there's damage to expensive-to-repair parts like fenders and hoods. But there are multiple problems, the first of which is that the bumpers on colliding vehicles often don't line up vertically so they don't engage to begin with. Even some that do line up don't stay engaged during an impact," according to IIHS. "Modern front-end styling results in bumper designs that can either slide under the bumpers of vehicles they strike or that simply don't have enough room to absorb the energy of a low-speed crash. Even if they do engage the bumper of the vehicle they crash into, the bars underneath bumper covers often aren't up to absorbing the energy. They may not be big enough to provide much protection from damage, especially if they don't extend to vehicle corners, or they may be too flimsy to absorb much energy."

The Focus’ full-width test necessitated less than $600 in repairs, but the Elantra needed almost $5,000 in repair from that test, which equals about one-third of the Elantra's sales price. "The Focus shows that decent bumpers don't have to be heavy or costly," said Nolan. "Many consumers are turning to small cars for better fuel economy, but damage in our tests approached luxury-car territory. Savings at the pump could be more than offset by a single low-speed collision in one of these so-called economy cars." To see a chart of the results, visit http://www.iihs.org/news/rss/pr090408.html.

 

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