Study: Midsize Car Bumpers Do Little to Prevent Costly Damage

March 5, 2007

Those minor fender benders might cost more than you think, according to new crash tests released by the insurance industry.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found that most bumpers on midsize cars do little to prevent costly damage to vehicles, even in low-speed crashes of up to 6 miles per hour. The crashes frequently occur in parking lots and in commuter traffic.

Testing for the first time by the Virginia-based Institute found that only three midsize vehicles — the Mitsubishi Galant, Toyota Camry and Mazda 6 — sustained less than $1,500 in repairs from each of the four crash tests.

The tests were conducted to review damage from front, rear, front corner and rear corner crashes.

“The cars with the lowest repair bills after our new bumper tests still sustained much more damage than they should have in some of the tests,” said Adrian Lund, the Institute’s president. “We got crumpled grilles and headlights plus buckled fenders in impacts at speeds equivalent to an average person walking fast.”

The Institute conducted tests on 17 midsize cars in low-speed tests. In one test of the front-end at 6 mph, four vehicles — the Nissan Maxima, Volkswagen Passat, Pontiac G6, and Hyundai Sonata — had damages of more than $4,000.

By comparison, the Institute conducted similar tests on a 1981 Ford Escort and found the front-end test only caused $86 in damages. They said it highlighted federal requirements that were in effect until 1982 that required bumpers to keep damage away from vehicle safety equipment and sheet metal parts in crashes of up to 5 mph.

Since 1982, the Institute said the required test speeds have been cut in half, leading to more damage.

Automakers said they work to design vehicles to resist low-speed collision damage. Nissan, for example, said it believes the Maxima “performs competitively in terms of cost of repair.”

Volkswagen of America Inc. said that “while low-speed collision repairs are an element of the total cost of ownership, we’re confident that Volkswagen products continue to provide exceptional customer value.”

General Motors Corp. said in a statement that the tests “have everything to do with damageability, but they are really not an occupant safety issue. These are new tests and we are assessing the results.”

Serious injuries are uncommon in low-speed crashes, and the institute’s bumper tests did not assess passenger safety.


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