IIHS: Mismatched Bumpers Between Cars And SUVs Can Cost Big

December 2, 2010
Low-speed impacts between two vehicles of the same type aren't likely to show much damage. But even in seemingly minor bumps, collisions between cars and SUVs—even those from the same automaker—can involve hefty damage bills adding up to nearly $10,000 in some cases.

So says the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), which tested seven different pairs of 2010 and 2011 models, with a small car and a small SUV of the same automaker, one striking the back of the other vehicle at 10 mph while the front vehicle was stationary. In each case, the IIHS ran the tests in both ways, with the SUV rear-ending the car and with the car rear-ending the SUV.

Altogether, the IIHS then added up damage repair costs from these crash tests—either SUV into car or car into SUV. Outcomes varied from just $850 (Hyundai Tucson into Kia Forte) to $6,015 (Toyota Corolla into Toyota RAV4). And both of the Corolla/RAV4 crashes would add up to $9,867.

10 mph enough to disable a vehicle?

Bumper-damage repair costs in 10-mph crashes Source: IIHS

Bumper-damage repair costs in 10-mph crashes Source: IIHS

Although the occupants of these vehicles would be unharmed, they wouldn't be able to drive away, the IIHS anticipated, because of the condition of the vehicles. "If they did, their vehicles would overheat, and the engines could be ruined," the agency said in a release.

"We picked vehicles from the same manufacturer because we think automakers should at the least pay attention to bumper compatibility across their own fleets," said chief administration officer Joe Nolan. "The results show that many don't."

According to the IIHS, a federal standard requires all bumpers protect in a zone of 16 to 20 inches above the ground, yet SUV bumpers aren't held to all the same regulations, and in a number of car-SUV collisions the bumpers fail to match up at all, resulting in costly damage to hoods, fenders, cooling or engine components, or even safety equipment.


Honda Civic and Honda CR-V bumpers

Honda Civic and Honda CR-V bumpers

The two Honda vehicles tested—the Honda CR-V and Honda Civic—tested better than most, thanks to a slight two-inch overlap in their bumpers. "The CR-V's front bumper overlapped the Civic's rear bumper by more than 2 inches," said Nolan. "That may not sound like much, but it's enough to allow the bumpers to do what they're supposed to do."

The Kia Forte and Hyundai Tucson were another couple of vehicles that matched up better than most of the others; damage added up to a combined total of $3,601 over both vehicles, and the IIHS says that the $1,510 estimate for the Forte was the lowest of the cars in the group.

But the results of the Toyota Corolla and Toyota RAV4 weren't as good—in part, due to the RAV4's high bumper mounting and rear-mounted spare tire. When the RAV4 was struck from behind by the Corolla, the Corolla ended up with extensive damage to the hood, grille, headlights, A/C, and radiator support, while the RAV4, when struck by the Corolla, had crushed taillights and rear body panels.

Holding out for off-roading?

The suggestion from the IIHS (which in 2008 petitioned the federal government to regulate SUV and truck bumpers the same as cars: Stop placing SUV bumpers for rare off-road ability, as it's not the bumper that's the limiting factor for ground clearance or approach and departure angles anyway.

What do you think? Is there a good reason for SUV bumpers to be at a different height?


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