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When Bumpers on Cars and SUVs don't line up, Part III:

Rules apply to cars only, not SUVs

A federal standard specifies a zone on cars for bumper protection extending from 16 to 20 inches off the ground. This means car bumpers line up reasonably well. When two cars collide at low speeds, the bumpers are more likely to engage. Then they have a chance to absorb energy and prevent damage. But no such bumper requirements apply to SUVs, pickup trucks, or minivans, so these vehicles often have flimsier bumpers than cars. The heights of their bumpers often are different from the mandated heights for car bumpers.

As SUVs have proliferated in recent years, so has bumper mismatch. Now SUVs account for about 1 of every 4 passenger vehicles sold in the United States. Together pickups and SUVs account for almost half.

Change the federal bumper rules

Because SUVs don't have to meet the bumper requirements established for cars, automakers are free to equip these vehicles with minimal bumpers or, like the rear of the RAV4, no bumper at all. If an SUV does have bumpers, they aren't required to line up with those on cars.

"The federal rules should be changed to make SUVs and cars more compatible. The manufacturers already are working on this for high-speed collisions, and they ought to be doing it for low-speed impacts like these tests. SUVs can have the same utility they do today and still be equipped with decent bumper systems that extend down to where they match up with those on cars," Lund concludes. "Until then, motorists who bump into mismatched vehicles, even at very low speeds, will have no choice but to open their wallets."


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