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When Bumpers on Cars and SUVs don't line up

Low-speed front-into-rear crashes occur frequently in urban traffic, and the vehicles often sustain expensive damage. Bumpers can reduce this damage, but only if they line up so the initial contact in an impact is bumper to bumper. Then the bumpers on the colliding vehicles have to absorb the crash energy, keeping damage away from expensive sheet metal, lights, and other components.

Car bumpers are required by a federal standard to match up reasonably well. However, no such requirements apply to SUVs, and some of these vehicles don't have bumpers. So mismatches in crashes are increasing, and the resulting repair costs from low-speed collisions are escalating. The Institute's new series of 10 mph front-into-rear crash tests demonstrates this mismatch problem.

Car-into-SUV and SUV-into-car crash tests

The Institute's tests involved five pairs of vehicles, each composed of a car and a midsize SUV from the same manufacturer. The pairs included a Ford Taurus and Explorer, a Chevrolet Malibu and TrailBlazer, a Dodge Stratus and Jeep Grand Cherokee (both DaimlerChrysler products), a Nissan Altima and Murano, and a Volvo S40 and XC90.

"We paired vehicles from a single manufacturer because we thought that, at a minimum, automakers should be paying attention to the compatibility of the bumpers across their own fleets," Institute chief operating officer Adrian Lund explains.

In the tests, a car going 10 mph struck the back of its paired SUV, which was stopped. Then the configuration was reversed, with the SUV striking the back of its paired car. Results of these low-speed impacts varied widely, from a total of about $1,250 damage in one test to more than $6,000 damage to the paired vehicles in two other tests. In some cases, the low-speed crash damage included major leaks from broken radiators. In real-world collisions like these, the motorists couldn't even drive away. If they did, their vehicles could overheat and the engines could be permanently damaged. So in addition to paying for costly repairs, the drivers would face the aggravation of having to get their vehicles towed.


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