SUV Bumpers Should Be Lower to Stem Damage to Cars, Study Says

Bumpers on sport-utility vehicles should be lowered because they fail to prevent damage to smaller cars in crash tests, according to a study by a U.S. auto insurer-sponsored group.

Combined estimated-damage costs for an SUV hitting the rear of a stopped car at 10 miles per hour ranged from $2,995 to $7,444, and for a car into an SUV it was $3,601 to $9,867, according to the study released today by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

U.S. regulations require all cars to have rear and front bumpers that protect within a zone of 16 inches to 20 inches from the ground, according to the Arlington, Virginia-based organization. Bumpers are meant to prevent damage from low-speed crashes. The regulations don’t apply to SUVs.

“Instead of the bumpers hitting each other and bumping, you wind up with” costly crashes, John Nolan, chief administrative officer for IIHS, said in a telephone interview. “Regulating SUV bumpers would ease the burden,” he said in the report.

The nonprofit IIHS conducted front-into-rear crash tests of seven pairs of 2010-11 models, each pair consisting of a car and an SUV to determine if bumpers reduce damages in crashes of different-sized vehicles from the same manufacturer. The smallest SUV from each automaker was used because the group had tested larger SUVs in similar experiments with the same results, Nolan said.

“Automakers should at the least pay attention to bumper compatibility across their own fleets,” Nolan said. “The results show that many don’t.”

Highest, Lowest Costs

In the IIHS tests, a Nissan Motor Co. Rogue SUV crashing into a Nissan Sentra caused $7,444 in damage. Honda Motor Co.’s CR-V hitting a Honda Civic resulted in damages of $2,995.

In the rear crash of a car into an SUV, a Toyota Motor Corp. Corolla hitting a Toyota RAV4 caused $9,867 in damages and a Hyundai Motor Co. Kia Forte crashing into a Hyundai Tucson had $3,601 in damages.

“It’s very understandable that when they go into each other they’re not going to face off equally,” Tom Libby, president of the Society of Automotive Analysts, said in a telephone interview. “To impose another regulation on top of existing ones is going to run into some resistance, particularly in these times where two are just getting out of bankruptcy.”

General Motors Co. last month sold shares to partially repay the U.S. government’s $49.5 billion bailout of the automaker. Auburn Hills, Michigan-based Chrysler Group LLC received $13 billion of government assistance.

2008 Petition

In 2008 the IIHS petitioned the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the government agency that oversees vehicle safety, to regulate bumpers on SUVs and pickups to be the same as cars.

The regulation would “significantly reduce the functionality and versatility of these vehicles,” the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, a trade association of 11 automakers, said in 2009.

The largest U.S. SUV makers are GM and Ford Motor Co. Detroit-based GM and Ford yesterday reported improved sales in November as demand for SUVs and pickups pushed the industry toward matching its fastest sales pace of the year.

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