The Small Car Catch-22

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Little cars that don’t costs much to buy – or to drive – are making a comeback. The 2014 Mitsubishi Mirage I just reviewed, for instance (see here). It’s equipped with a tiny but extremely fuel-efficient three-cylinder engine capable of returning mid-40s on the highway – and high 30s around town. That’s almost as good as a diesel (or hybrid). The Mirage only costs about $13k, sticker, too.small car lead

But, there’s a catch.

A Catch-22, actually.

Mitsubishi – like all car manufacturers – must build every car it makes to government spec. That means multiple air bags – seven, in the case of the ’14 Mirage. Some are required directly in that every new car must by law have at least a driver and front seat passenger air bag. Others are required in an indirect way, via government crashworthiness requirements.

For a very small – and very light – car like the Mirage (which weighs just over 1,800 pounds) to be deemed “safe” as government defines it, a plethora of air bags is necessary. Side-impact bags, for both rows – plus a knee air bag for the driver (see technical specs here).

What happens when they deploy?Mirage crash test picture

Keep in mind that the Mirage is a car with a sticker price, brand new – around $13,000. Two or three years old, it will have a book value in the $8,000 or so range. Most insurance adjusters will declare a car a total loss – throw it away, forget fixing it – when the repair costs are estimated to exceed 50 percent of the car’s retail value, pre-accident. So, if the car was worth about $8,000 before the accident, it will probably be “totaled” if the estimated repair cost is in the vicinity of $4,000.

It is very easy to spend $4,000 at the body shop – before even factoring in the cost of air bag replacement.

Much less replacing four or five air bags.air bag graphic

And you’re more likely to face having to replace them.

Because a car like the Mirage is small and light, an impact that might not cause the air bags (or fewer of them) to deploy in a larger, heavier car – in which there is more metal to absorb impact forces – is more likely to trigger an air bag deployment (multiple deployments).

Some will argue that’s a good thing; that air bags “save lives.” That it’s worth the cost. But unless they’re the ones paying the bills, who are they to dictate?

Shouldn’t it be the buyer’s choice?empty pockets picture

I’d like to know where the air bags-at-gunpoint people get the idea that it’s ok to spend other people’s money. Whether it’s $1,000 or $100 per air bag, it’s none of their business (and so, no business of the government’s) whether your car has or doesn’t have air  bags.

Or ought not to be.

Now, I’ve been criticized for (allegedly) over-stating the add-on cost of air bags at the manufacturing level. That’s bull, but leave it aside for now.

There’s no debate about the cost of replacing the bags once they’ve deployed. Several hundred bucks a pop, each – plus the cost of repairing (or replacing) the peripheral parts destroyed when the air bag deployed, such as the dashpad, door panels (side impact bags) and steering wheel. Replacing the driver and front seat passenger air bags and related interior parts typically adds $1,500-$2,000 to the cost of repairing a car.pile of used cars

See where this is headed?

If just the driver and front seat passenger bags deploy in a car with a retail value of $8,000 you’d better hope the sheetmetal (and sheet plastic) damage doesn’t amount to more than about $2,000 or so. Because if it does, the odds are good the car – otherwise salvageable and perhaps even still drivable as is – will be declared a total loss. Instead of getting your car repaired, you’ll get a check that won’t replace the car. A check that’s often as close to the lowest “retail value” the insurance mafiosi can dig up. You’ll often have to fight them for weeks – months, sometimes – to get a settlement even approximating fair.

Thanks to the air bags, you’ll be be left holding the bag.holding the bag picture

Deliberate or not, the fact is the air bag mandate amounts to a form of planned obsolescence targeting small, low-priced cars. A designed-in way to virtually guarantee they’ll be junked after even a relatively minor and otherwise economically fixable accident. I referenced $8,000 in my example above, but remember that after four or five years from new, a car like the Mirage will probably only be worth about $6,000. At that point, any air bag deployment – even if it’s just the driver’s air bag, nothing more – will likely push the repair estimate over the 50 percent of retail value cut-off and the car will be beer can fodder.

There are probably millions of paid-for older cars out there with book values in the $6,000 or so range – with ticking time bombs in their door panels, dashpads and steering wheels. It’s something to take into account when considering the purchase of a small, apparently inexpensive car.

Government is doing all it can to make owning any car a very expensive proposition – if not up front, then down the line.

Throw it in the Woods?

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  63 comments for “The Small Car Catch-22

  1. MamaLiberty
    October 2, 2013 at 2:34 pm

    Seems like a good place to start would be disabling the air bags, as was discussed a while back. Still have not figured out how to do that on my Saturn, but I really should take care of that.

    Besides the cost, a good number of small women and even some men would be killed or injured badly by these bags.

    • DownshiftFast5to1
      October 2, 2013 at 3:18 pm

      So true, MamaLiberty.

      I briefly looked into disabling the airbags on one of my vehicles. It seems the fuse for it was the same fuse for the fuel system (or something like that) so I can’t ‘just’ pull the fuse.

      Often I think of trading that vehicle in on something older which can maintain its value a bit.

      • October 4, 2013 at 11:22 am

        You can disable the airbags by unplugging them from their wiring harnesses. Takes a bit of know-how, but can be done with some professional advice from a mechanic you know and trust and is willing to tell you. Some repair manuals will tell you how as well.

        Airbag Story for you, Eric: My brother drives a late ’90s Escort. It’s in good shape and is barely broken in at 115k miles. Only worth about $2,500 though. So a while back, he was a bit over-enthusiastic with a curve and wound up smacking a guardrail with the front end of the car, while the car was 90% going sideways. Just some scratches on the front bumper, nothing important was damaged. Or, nothing would have been, had the front driver and passenger airbags not gone off. So now the car needed two airbags and a windshield, which the passenger airbag destroyed. Would have been junkyard material had my brother not been a mechanic and had a parts car sitting in his yard to scalp airbags from. He was still out $215 for the windshield though. Funny, he didn’t bother hooking up the new airbags, just set them in place to look the part :)

        • 4a552f55cbb9
          October 4, 2013 at 12:36 pm

          Is it a crazy idea to remove all the airbags? Can this be safely done? Would the resulting fuel economy be dramatic enough to merit removal?

          • eric
            October 4, 2013 at 2:23 pm

            It’s not crazy at all – just not practical.

            For one thing, most states have mandatory “safety” inspections – and any factory-installed equipment must be intact and working for the car to pass. No pass, no sticker – no can (legally) drive the car.

            I favor a disconnect switch, myself.

    • clover
      October 15, 2013 at 9:55 pm

      Editor’s note: Reply has been filed in the trash. You must pay to play!

      50 cent per post

      • RothbardianamericanHelot
        October 15, 2013 at 10:24 pm

        Ha! I like that style, editor.

      • eric
        October 16, 2013 at 6:24 am

        Clover, can’t you read?

        Is there something wrong with you?

        It’s been explained rather clearly several times now. You must remit 50 cents per post prior to any post of yours appearing for public view. This space is not owned by you. The owners have decided to require a fee before you may avail yourself of the resources of this web site and the time/trouble of the readers.

        The why is immaterial, but I’ll explain – once again:

        You add nothing of value to this web site. You simply regurgitate the same low-wattage talking points, refusing to treat with facts or engage in a reasoned discussion. I don’t let deranged street people wander around my property mumbling (or shouting) bizarre nonsense, either.

        Not for free, at any rate.

      • clover
        October 16, 2013 at 8:18 pm

        Editor’s note: Comment removed because insufficient funds.

        • eric
          October 17, 2013 at 6:11 am

          Clover: You love EPautos so much, you ought to be happy to send us 50 cents for the privilege of posting here. In any case, it’s the only way your posts will ever appear here again. I won’t provide a vanity press for morons.

          • Tor Minotaur
            October 17, 2013 at 6:49 am

            C’mon Clover! The suspense is killing me. Pay up so I can once more enjoy your learned discourse.

          • eric
            October 17, 2013 at 8:18 am

            Open Question to Everyone:

            Shall we let Clover back in?

          • Ed
            October 17, 2013 at 7:11 am

            Fuck him, Tor. Why would you miss the smell of shit once the room is aired out?

          • Jean
            October 17, 2013 at 8:59 am

            re: Let clover in: NO. Troll is troll. Leave him in the cold.

          • Boothe
            October 17, 2013 at 9:18 am

            Eric – If clover is a state sponsored troll (and he probably is) then he really needs to help pay for this venue or stay out. If he’s just another ignorant flag pole humping statist then he still needs to pay up. Now I’ll admit that the mental weed seeds he/she/it sows here often spur us into interesting and enlightening discourse. But we usually accomplish that on our own without his/her/its inane and primarily wrongheaded ruminations. No, clover needs to learn about the right to freedom of association. That includes the right not to associate with him/her/it or to only associate within specific terms such as “pay to play.” So I say make clover pay or sit out the debate.

          • Eightsouthman
            October 17, 2013 at 10:05 am

            eric, let him come back if he can tell me what Ames Oil is. I knew I’d seen the name, asked the old lady and she said “Yeah, that’s the outfit we used to haul tubing out of OKC for”. She was right….but they don’t make lubricants.

  2. Hot Rod
    October 2, 2013 at 4:22 pm

    Eric…I hate small cars! With that said my main objective is to make you aware of the diverging opinion being held by libertarians about driverless cars. We know where you stand on the matter and then just today I was visiting DR (Daily Reckoning) when I saw the following article glorifying the technology:

    http://dailyreckoning.com/the-auto-industrys-2-trillion-breakthrough/

    I mean WTF? I want to see a matchup between you and Josh in a libertarian writer’s duel (lol). So how cozy is Eric Peters to a site such as DR anyway? I like most of the articles on there but once in a while they start talking about making money off Defense technology, and my eyes glaze over about then. Especially when its like how we need government technology to protect the interent from “terrorists”. I won’t possibly compare DR to say Reason, as DR is a 10 factor more libertarian responsible but I mean when a person advocates a breathalyzer in cars or oscillator to detect DUI drivers and shut down the car, my only thought is how libertarian is it if I don’t want to buy that technology in the car I purchase and who ultimately is going to make me buy what I don’t want or need anyway and then make me huff in pipe to start my car? Its scary when libertarians at DR need to be taken to task, but you are just the guy Eric (laughing) and I want front row seats as in pay per view. Also, as a side note I do like DR site alot, but I mean its a bit contradicting. And I’m all smiles listening how to make big pots of money “investing” in the “stock market”. Ha Ha Ha…HA HAA HAAA HA…Sure we’ll see how that turns out again in a few years for ya..been there done that.

    • Hot Rod
      October 2, 2013 at 4:26 pm

      interent = Internet above. And I do hate small cars, but I’m not so fancy about huge ones either unless towing. Now mid-size..is just right.

    • eric
      October 2, 2013 at 5:06 pm

      Hi HR,

      I almost never go there – but will check this article out!

      I will say, as an initial response, that if Josh supports in-car alcohol sensors as mandatory equipment, it’s prima facie evidence he’s not a Libertarian. Or at least, that he’s not being intellectually consistent.

      With regard to “drunk” driving: This is a hugely subjective term, because individuals vary hugely in terms of both their baseline abilities (including such things as reaction times, visual acuity, etc.) as well as how alcohol affects them.

      I’ve observed to Clover on previous occasions that I am a better driver – that is, more in control of my car – with say 2-3 drinks in me than my mother-in-law is when sober.

      And though she’s not technically “drunk” as a matter of law with one drink in her she is probably meaningfully impaired because her baseline is so low – and ought not to be driving – even though she would make it through a “sobriety checkpoint.”

      Point being, how does the Breathalyzer differentiate between the person who has been drinking but is still capable of driving competently/safely – and the person who is not?

      It can’t, of course.

      All it can do is arbitrarily punish people who’ve “blown” a given BAC – irrespective of their ability to drive safely.

      Now, Clover will retort that no one can drive safely after drinking. But that’s bunk. It is bunk for the same reason that even if you tied Floyd Mayweather’s left arm behind his back and make him wear high heels, he’d still b able to out-fight 99 percent of the human race. That’s an extreme example, of course – but it makes the point.

      Libertarians ought to oppose prior restraint – presuming guilt, punishing people across the board not for what they’ve done but on the basis that someone might do something.

      And that, per Forrest Gump, is all I have to say about that!

      • Hot Rod
        October 2, 2013 at 6:19 pm

        Eric that is exactly what I figured you would say and you are consistently logical. I must say that I kind of figured the driverless car was still a way out there thing, even though you’d been warning about it for some time. Reason was that I figured this is a car site so you’d be up on things coming down the pipe 10 years from now and I didn’t worry so much. But when a non-auto type site such as DR starts talking about it then I’m a bit more concerned. I kind of feel the the free range maverick cowboy in the 1880′s, when it all started to get fenced in. Sorry my friend but freedom and autos most likely will be a thing of the past.

        HR

      • Phillip the Bruce
        October 4, 2013 at 12:03 pm

        Did you see the post on Lew Rockwell Monday about the guy in Texas (of course it had to be Texas) whose stomach was producing brewer’s yeast and anytime he ate carbs his BAC went through the roof? So if he eats according to the USDA recommendations, he can’t legally drive. What the …?

    • ozymandias
      October 4, 2013 at 12:46 pm

      most everyone’s got something to sell. agora’s (dr) got more for sale than most. so the spectacle of contradiction. they put different horses in their stable head to head, themselves, already. all part of the show. resonant writing (there) is resonantly enjoyable (& this they know). “us against them / loopholing-bypassing them / escaping them” is a niche agora mines profitably (understatement), but segmentation still applies.

    • Eightsouthman
      October 17, 2013 at 9:13 am

      Hot Rod, it looks like it eventually comes to two alternatives. Either the self driving Prius with “gooseneck” technology or everybody wises up and drives 20+year old one ton diesel manual shift pickups. “Yeah, the paperwork was hell, but I finally got a waver to drive a ’92 GMC diesel pickup, found one for just $90,000 but it’s really nice”.

  3. justin
    October 2, 2013 at 5:56 pm

    was at a body shop the other day. they had a one year old fancy Volvo in for repairs,
    seems it had struck a small black bear, and had $6000 in body damage,
    and $34,000 in airbag replacements.

    • DownshiftFast5to1
      October 2, 2013 at 7:03 pm

      “and $34,000 in airbag replacements.”? Whaat? Really?

      You mean, $3,400, right?

      [Mang, I can't Even comment to those guys above. Mandatory breathalyzers and the end of free-range driving? Agh!]

  4. justin
    October 2, 2013 at 6:10 pm

    I dislike small cars, unless they are sports cars, like Mini Coopers or Corvettes, Porsches, Fieros, or the like.

    My brother has a 88 Fiero GT with a Cadillac 4.9 V-8 in it.
    Man, what a ride!
    That thing is a BLAST to drive.
    and cheap too,
    $900 for the car, $900 for the engine, another $1000 for misc parts.

    small cars dont save much gas compared to a larger, much more comfortable much safer vehicle.

    I just dont get it, a Prius is almost the same price as a Smart car, with twice the space, and get the same MPG.

    Do the math, the main cost of vehicle ownership is depreciation,
    we recently bought a very nice 6 yr old Expedition, with every possible option, 4wd, sunroof, heated and cooled leather seats, TV in the roof etc etc.

    window sticker was $48K, so figure the original buyer paid, maybe $42K ?

    we got it at an auction for $6k
    I doubt it will depreciate much more, just about any 4wd vehicle in decent shape, that runs, is worth $4K.

    sure, it drinks gas, but its very comfortable on long trips, and I feel alot safer in it than in some tiny gas saver.
    plus all the new cars are such a pain to work on.
    I replaced the alternator on a 03 Beetle a while back,
    took 7 1/2 hours.
    stealership charges $1500 for that job.

    Took 31 minutes for me to replace the alternator on the Expedition.

    Pain to work on though since half the engine is under the dash, so they could tilt the windshield back and get another 0.4 MPG.

    Ive already decided that my next vehicle is gonna be a 88 K-5 Blazer.
    something sturdy, no plastic, and easy to work on.
    Only thing is, a 88 Blazer costs more than we paid for a 04 Expy…..

    • eric
      October 2, 2013 at 6:26 pm

      Hey Justin,

      A V-8 Fiero?

      That rocks!

      I’m definitely with you when it comes to a car as in your Expedition example. You come out way ahead, even if you pay more for gas – because you paid so little for the vehicle.

      That said, I don’t hate small/cheap cars – having owned several over the years. This new Mirage I just reviewed, for instance. $13k sticker (about half the cost of a Prius) and mid-high 30s in city driving (not all that far off what a Prius gives you).

      That’s all right – especially when you take into account that taxes/insurance will be low, too.

      Used
      , a car like this’d be an even better deal.

      • Curtis
        October 2, 2013 at 7:17 pm

        Can you hear the fight with the insurance company when this 10 month old car takes a hit like that and now the car is totaled and the owner still owes the bank!
        I remember when Hyundai came out with the Excel in 87(?). A friend had to have one. Got rid of a 68 Mustang to get his new car. About 10-12 months in, he hit a bad pothole at speed in the dark. Right front wheel hits the firewall and now the car is totaled. Owed the bank and still isn’t even willing to talk about Hyundai to this day. My wife has a Sorrento and I think I put a pushrod or torsion bar through his heart.

    • Eightsouthman
      October 17, 2013 at 9:30 am

      justin, I wondered for years how you work on a Ford pickup/SUV so a friend had a new ’04 I think, a 6.0L diesel and it started using water. He owns a shop so he knows the problem but it takes him 3 times at the dealership to get them to admit it. He gives it up for a couple weeks, after they reluctantly agreed to fix it, goes by to see it with everything removed except the bed…..so they could change head gaskets. What you say is true. My renter and his bros. have started a construction company and needed lots of used pickups. They kept buying Dodges and Fords and I had asked him to keep an eye out for a GM, the brand they would have bought if they could have. After several months he has a few more fairly new pickups, one a Ford 5 years old they’d picked up for $3500. I asked if he ever saw any GM’s and he said yes, there was a Chevy there almost identical to the Ford for more than twice the price. He said that’s the way it always is. I call a friend up the road who works for a wholesaler and ask him. He said I sold over 100 pickups just like you want, 3/4T 4WD ext. cab and crew cab’s yesterday. The GM’s were $12-17,000 while the others were $4-6,000. These are all fairly new fleet trucks mainly from oil companies. Ok then. Good luck on that K-5.

  5. Mike in Boston
    October 2, 2013 at 7:34 pm

    Next thing will be a car that fills completely with foam, as in the Sly Stallone movie “Demolitian Man”, if any of you saw that one. The airbag on my ’03 Corolla quit on it’s own, and I toss the postcards from Toyota saying they’re working on a fix since I won’t be doing that.
    These “self driving car” people crack me up, we’ve had that where I live for decades, it’s called the bus!

    P.S. Dom – my login says I don’t exist, is that due to the hack, and do I need to re-register?

  6. Eric_G
    October 2, 2013 at 9:02 pm

    Wasn’t the whole point of airbags so you didn’t have to wear a seatbelt? I remember when Chrysler put airbags in minivans. The line in the ad (from Lee Iacocca himself) was something like “You still have to wear your seatbelt, but they’re in there.”

    In fact, I think the rule was that passive restraint systems or airbags had to be installed. My 1988 Subaru XT had automatic seat belts. They were kind of a pain if you weren’t ready for them when they engaged, but they were a heck of a lot cheaper than airbags, and I was going to wear my seat belt anyway. One trip to the junk yard when I got my learner’s permit to look at blood and hair on broken windshields insured I’d wear it.

    I guess I’m the only one who’s looking forward to self-driving cars (at least the second generation of them). As long as I get to point it to the destination I’m fine with it. After all, for all practical purposes, Donald Trump and Barry Obama get their own “self-driving” cars. If technology makes it possible for the rest of us, I’m all for it. Imagine stretching out in the back seat on Friday, maybe after work, and waking up 12 hours later at the beach? In fact, make it an RV. Play Grand theft Auto on the xbox if you can’t sleep.

    No need to worry about getting home from the bar, just have “Jeeves” drive you home. Why not bring back the 3 martini lunch? Michael Jackson (the beer critic, not the gloved one) had a chauffeur all the time because he was basically drunk all the time.

    I will miss driving, on those few days when I could open up on some back road with no traffic around. But really, even that’s not all it’s cracked up to be, having to have a radar detector, always looking around for cops and getting stuck behind Clovers… Maybe if we all get self-drivers we can take the next step and open a bunch of tracks too (http://www.aspenmotorsportspark.com for an example of what rich people do with their Ferraris on the weekends).

    • DownshiftFast5to1
      October 2, 2013 at 9:34 pm

      Eric_G, I think you’re seeing All of the upside to driverless cars, and None of the downside.

      Just think about how this worked out:
      “Wasn’t the whole point of airbags so you didn’t have to wear a seatbelt?”

      Then apply that kind of thinking to driverless cars.

    • albertchampion
      October 4, 2013 at 10:41 pm

      you always have to wear the belts.

      they hold you in a position for maneuvers to avoid an accident.

      that has always been their purpose.

      this is why pilots wore them long before the drivers of cars.

      and why race drivers wore them sometime after moss and fangio did not.

      i have the oddest response, i bet. i have a 1995 m-b e320cab. it had no glove box. special for the us market, i think, that glove box was replaced with a passenger air bag.

      well, i found a mechanic who would remove the airbag and replace it with the glove box from germany. i wager it is the only one so configured in the usa.

      he made me sign some disclaimer document.

      i do the same things with the goddam chimes. i have them disabled. he also makes me sign a disclaimer document.

      no benz dealer will make these alterations.

      • DownshiftFast5to1
        October 4, 2013 at 11:30 pm

        You seem to be wayy off the point of the comment, albertchampion.
        But since you seemed ask, “they hold you in a position for maneuvers to avoid an accident.”

        I think that’s a bunch of bullshit.

        If a person cannot avoid the accident without seatbelts, there’s no avoiding it. At least that’s my, ‘missed-by-that-much’ perspective, and my crashing experience.

        This is bullshit too: “that has always been their purpose.”

        When they had *only* lap belts available in cars, it seems to me the *only* purpose was to keep you *in* the car. I imagine that’s why pilots wore them too.

        But like I’ve written elsewhere, I’ve known plenty of people who died in car crashes while wearing their seatbelts. Whole lotta good that did them, eh?

        That comment may come off harsh, don’t take it that way.
        Especially seeing as how you’re a fellow door chime disabler.

      • eric
        October 5, 2013 at 6:09 am

        Hi Albert,

        “you always have to wear the belts.”

        Really? Says who? Are you going to put a gun to my head to make me?

        If your answer is yes, then you have accepted that the same principle may be applied to you in many particulars.

        I can think of lots of things that would make you “safer” – shall I get out my gun?

        I’m just trying to make a point – that the utilitarian argument you’ve made above is exceptionally dangerous because it completely eviscerates the concept of rights.

        Specifically, the right of every human being to not be physically threatened by other people unless he has threatened them with violence first.

        Electing to not wear a seatbelt – or a helmet or fit your car with a roll cage and five point harness and a neck restraint system – none of these constitute violence toward others.

        Therefore, they are no one else’s business.

        Wear a seat belt – and fit your car with a roll cage and five point harness – if you wish to.

        But leave others alone if they wish not to.

        The suggestion that not wearing a seat belt might result in a person not being able to control his car and so possibly cause harm to others is as spurious as arguing that because a fat person might have (or is more likely to have) a heart attack while driving and could lose control of his car and thereby possibly cause harm to others… there ought to be a tax on fat people, as well as forced calisthenics every other day.

        • RothbardianamericanHelot
          October 6, 2013 at 12:37 am

          eric wrote, “The suggestion that not wearing a seat belt might result in a person not being able to control his car and so possibly cause harm harm to others is a spurious as arguing that a fat slob might have a heart attack while driving and could lose control of his car and thereby possibly cause harm to others…”

          In the early days of the war on some drugs, I asked a person in a position of power why forklift drivers had to take a drug test.

          The answer was pretty much what you said was the reasoning for seatbelts.

          I asked them if maybe that meant all people over 40 should be restricted from the job as they are more inclined to have heart attacks.

          …I got no answer.
          I lost the job.

          They wanted an unthinking, ”Yes man’.
          They’re out of business now. That could be part of the reason why.

          • eric
            October 6, 2013 at 5:40 am

            Amen, RBA –

            And, apologies for the typos… !

          • Charles
            October 9, 2013 at 5:43 pm

            Amen indeed!!

  7. JoePA
    October 3, 2013 at 11:02 am

    I’ve responded to and investigated roughly 6-700 accidents in my career. Airbags are only good for initial impact accidents only. Immediately after inflation the bag deflates and this occurs DURING the accident, seatbelts stay secured regardless. When arriving at a hospital (to get/make notifications) the doctors ALWAYS ask if seatbelts were worn. This gives them an idea as to extent of injuries and they NEVER ask about airbags. Airbags do not necessarily deploy during an accident anyway or could have deflated during secondary impacts.

    Honda motorcycles recently added an airbag to their Goldwing line. In asking a dealer / friend what use an airbag could have on a motorcycle her nervously stated after looking around for witnesses….NOTHING!

    The point is that airbags do has some limited use but are more of a politically correct issue….like having all children wear helmets while they play etc. Considering the way cars are made today with impact protection, airbags (in my opinion) should be an option like buying a different engine etc.

  8. Damon
    October 4, 2013 at 8:17 am

    My ex was in an accident in her 90s honda civic. Both front airbags deployed. When I spoke to the adjusted, he advised me that he didn’t even need to see the car, that knowing the repair costs of the two airbags, he was calling it a total loss. I think the car was worth about 10-12k at the time.

    • eric
      October 4, 2013 at 8:23 am

      Yup!

      Now, some (Clovers) will fixate on the injury allegedly prevented (or minimized) by the bags – and argue that’s more important than the car.

      Two rejoinders:

      First, they can’t say for certain that the bags were responsible for preventing or minimizing injury. It’s possible, certainly, but it’s just as possible the person in the car would have been ok with just seat belts. it’s also possible the air bags could have caused injury. They have – and do.

      But the second point is the important point:

      Simply, it is not Clover’s decision to make for others.

      Your “safety” (as he defines it) is none of his business.

      If he wants an air bag, by all means, he should be free to purchase one – at full market price.

      What I object to is his forcing others to buy them – and by dint of that, also forcing them to subsidize his air bags.

      • BrentP
        October 4, 2013 at 9:58 am

        In a free market there would not be airbags. At least airbags anywhere near what we know today.

        Why? Without a government mandate and a government standard automakers face too high of a liability with them, at least with airbags as we know them. This is why automakers abandoned them prior to ~1975. Yes. 1975.

        Airbags came out a long time ago. Automakers found their problems. Customers didn’t want the expense. They were removed from the market. People like Claybrook and Nader couldn’t accept that. They demanded airbags. They and their ancestors in government pushed and pushed and pushed. They called the automakers all sorts of names. They considered the engineering data to be lies. The automakers tried to get a belted standard for airbags rather than an unbelted standard.

        The control freaks in government got their mandate. Then people started being killed by the airbags, just like the automakers’ engineering data said they would. But government cannot admit error. So now we have weight sensors to turn off the airbag and other nonsense work arounds. More expense. Patchwork engineering.

        But the people are sold on airbags. Much the way they are sold on bicycle helmets. If the airbag goes off, it saved their life. Much like how if the thin plastic shell of a bike helmet is damaged the foam hat saved their life. Never mind the data that shows it generally only saves a person some scratching and bruising.

        • eric
          October 4, 2013 at 11:02 am

          I found this:

          http://automotivemileposts.com/cadillac/cadi1974acrs.html

          The bags – they called them “air cushions” – added appx. $225-$340 to the car’s MSRP in the early-mid ’70s.

          Adjusted for inflation, this is just under $1,100 in current dollars (see here: http://www.bls.gov/data/inflation_calculator.htm ).

          About the same add-on cost (back then) as checking the box for AC.

          Mind, that’s for just a driver’s side “air cushion.”

          So, we have a reference point for the true cost of air bags. The price they’d be if they remained optional (and almost certainly, very low volume, if they were offered at all) rather than having the costs imposed on everyone, which does lower the unit cost but nonetheless makes things more expensive overall rather than less so.

          And of course, forces those who would not buy air bags to subsidize Clover’s air bags.

          • JoePA
            October 4, 2013 at 2:46 pm

            I think everyone should wear helmets in a car!

            just kidding

          • Swamprat
            October 4, 2013 at 7:11 pm

            I read a study done in the 1990s that stated 3 point seatbelts reduced the chances of a fatality by 40% over an unbelted individual. Seatbelts plus airbag reduced the chances by 46%. That’s not too much of a difference. So, how much does it cost?

            Airbag replacement $2000.

            Let’s say there are 150 million cars with airbags. $30 billion replacement cost.

            40,000 deaths on the highway before airbags in widespread use.
            37,600 deaths after widespread airbag use.

            30 billion/2400 prevented deaths = $12.5 million per life saved.

            I am not sure what to think on this, but I’m generally against the idea. There are more efficient ways of saving lives.

            If we spent that $30 billion extra on highway improvements, I believe that it would be a lot more efficient.

            Example – According to the TRIP program, widening a lane of a highway from 11 to 12 feet reduces crashes by 12%. Adding a shoulder to a road, another 12%. Creating an extra lane – 24% Adding a median and limiting access – 77%.

            The single largest factor in fatality reduction has been the completion and widespread use of limited access highways.

        • Uwe
          October 6, 2013 at 9:33 am

          > But government cannot admit error. So now we have weight sensors
          > to turn off the airbag and other nonsense work arounds.
          > More expense. Patchwork engineering.

          Actually, I suspect that the weight sensors we have since roughly the middle of the last decade were mandated not for safety reasons but because the insurance companies lobbied the government for them in order to avoid the expense of replacing passenger airbags that deployed in accidents where there was no passenger to protect. Think about it, something like 90% of the time, a car only has the driver on board.

          Unfortunately, you’re right about the “more expense” part. In some cars, those weight sensors are integrated into the passenger seat in such a manner that the sensor itself cannot be replaced if it fails except by replacing the entire seat. Of course the insurance companies don’t care about that since they don’t pay for a failed component. Now go price out an entire new passenger seat in say, a 2006 Jetta GLI. :-O

  9. victorkiriakus
    October 4, 2013 at 2:45 pm

    This scenario happened to me recently. My 2007 HHR’s airbag deployed and the seatbelts had to be replaced even though nobody was injured in the fender bender. The adjuster told me the airbag and belts would make the car not worth saving.

    Actually, I was injured BY the airbag. While driving, my arm rubbed up against the hot airbag and received the nastiest burn I have ever had. The adjuster told me the airbags actually are activated by gunpowder and people get hurt by them all the time. Imagine if somebody’s face laid against the bag while they were unconscious.

    • JoePA
      October 4, 2013 at 3:03 pm

      I’ve investgated hundreds of vehicle accidents and the injuries you noted are very minor in nature. I’ve never seen a serious injury from an airbag and only very minor bruising from seatbelts. I’ve also never seen an airbag deploy by itself. Where airbags are completely useless are in multi impact accidents as they deflate immediately after inflation. An explosive cartridge located inside the bag itself inflates the kevlar bag but only after safety features tell it to do so. Scary on its deployment but harmless unless as you stated you happen to have your head resting on it. Same reason why child safety seats need all those regulations.

      • eric
        October 4, 2013 at 3:16 pm

        Hi Joe,

        While the number of deaths attributable to air bags is relatively small there is no debate that airbags have killed. Fairly serious injuries are much more common.

        Again, this brings to the fore the question: By what right does Smith impose his choice upon Jones? If Smith wants an air bag, because he believes the benefits outweigh the disadvantages – then he ought to be free to buy an air bag, provided someone is willing to sell him one at an agreeable (to both parties) price. By the same token, however, Jones ought to be free to not buy an air bag – because he believes the disadvantages outweigh the advantages.

        At least, that’s how it ought to be… in a free country.

        Too bad America isn’t.

        • JoePA
          October 4, 2013 at 3:47 pm

          Eric ….I completely agree in the choice not to being forced by anyone to purchase anything. As far as airbags killing anyone…… I have never been a personal witness to this. I like stating things I’ve witnessed with my own eyes. I personally feel this whole airbag safety issue is so far blown out of reality. Seatbelts are the #1 safety feature a vehicle has and even then I’m believer in choice in wearing them….like helmets on motorcycles. I wear one…..my choice.

          • eric
            October 4, 2013 at 6:36 pm

            Ah, I gotcha on that one, Joe!

            The #1 safety feature is being an attentive, competent driver – which will eliminate or nearly eliminate most “accidents” and thus, obviate the need for seatbelts or air bags!

    • Jean
      October 4, 2013 at 3:03 pm

      It has, and it’s no joke nor surprise.
      Even the “second gen” airbags are just full of hot air – which has to go SOMEWHERE….

      thermal conductivity of skin is all too good…

  10. victorkiriakus
    October 4, 2013 at 3:07 pm

    Other interesting notes. I have heard guys tell me they have over 200,000 miles on their Avalanche and they are still going strong. Yet, GM is discontinuing them because of federal mileage requirements!

    I went to the highest volume Chevy dealer in the country this past weekend in a very wealth area of DFW. The salesperson said they sell a lot of trucks, but not to who you may think.
    After all, the people that buy there are generally not blue collar. It is doctors, lawyers, accountants etc. that are buying them even though they almost never utilize the functionality of a truck, the trucks are relatively more expensive than a car, and get poor gas mileage. I guess it is a Texas thing and I say God Bless Them!

  11. Kevin Biomech
    October 4, 2013 at 8:05 pm

    Gonna take a turn away from the small car bashing here, and concentrate instead on vehicle safety. Real vs. Mandatory.

    First off, I love small cars. I have owned some land yachts, and everything in between, and always come back to little, agile cars.

    Absolutely the first factor in vehicle safety, In my arrogant opinion, is the loose nut behind the wheel. I once had a bumper sticker made for my car that said “If you can’t drive, DON’T”. That sums it up well, I think.

    But ok. These “laws” about “safety” are really about crash survival. And I am going to posit that they do not address it. They are instead about increasing the costs to the consumer and the pocketbooks of those who have invested in America by buying a senator. Air bags are one of my pet peeves.

    I have nothing against the actual concept. I would probably never opt for them, though, as they can make a bad situation worse as they are currently designed. They blind you. This could be mitigated by better design, but in all such things, one must ask “is there a better alternative?”

    The answer is a resounding yes. But it will never be embraced by the regulators because it’s cheap.

    If you want to make a vehicle crashworthy (as in survivability for the occupants), the cheapest and most effective way is a six point NASCAR style harness and a SERIOUS roll cage. Sure, the car might get totalled in an accident, but if you are harnessed and the car flips a few dozen times, you’ll likely be ok.

    The reason the regulators will never go for such a thing is cost. As in LOW cost. The replacement cost of one freakin’ airbag would cage and harness your whole car, and probably pay for the cosmetic enhancement to make the roll cage essentially invisible. I don’t weld, but when I set up my old scirocco in the late ’80′s for some mountain road racing, the guy I paid to cage it charged me about 1500 dollars to build the cage and install it. I made no effort at concealment. My seats and harnesses cost about another 1000. Thankfully, the roll cage never needed to be tested, but the harnesses worked better and were far more comfortable than the “shoulder breaker” mandated seat belts. The cage system and harnesses were conservatively designed to keep me alive in a 100+ mph crash, and I bought those figures cuz the guy was reputable. I also saw other, less lucky or less skilled, drivers test the systems this guy built. It’s been a lot of years since I was in that scene, but those guys at worst broke a leg in a very serious crash. Crashes at racing speeds on winding roads are not trivial. I seriously doubt that the seven airbags referenced in this article would save you in such a wreck, no matter the cost. But a couple thousand dollars (most of which was labor) sure would.

    This has two major problems, from the “regulatory” POV. One, it expects the driver to be smart enough to fasten a harness (not difficult, despite arguments I’ve heard to the contrary. Took me maybe ten seconds, vs. about five for a shoulder breaker). The second, and I think most important to them, is that it’s actually effective, and that seems to be anathema to all regulators.

    • eric
      October 5, 2013 at 6:23 am

      Hi Kevin,

      I hope you didn’t perceive the article as small car bashing. Not at all! I love small cars, myself.

      It’s government – organized/legalized violence – I deplore.

    • BrentP
      October 5, 2013 at 10:01 pm

      Kevin, I think you got the wrong impression.

      People like small cars here and we make fun of government safety knowing that real safety is a proper racing roll cage and racing harness. Honestly, I think if the government weren’t in the car business, today’s cars would have more advanced restraint systems, think of an easy way to do a racing harness every day. Illegal to do under federal law as far as I know btw, Ferrari tried a harness. Government said no. Had to have a three point belt. I also think without CAFE and airbags the passenger compartments would have gone to something that simulated a racing welded tube roll cage the best one could do with a car for everyday people. It’s pretty close even with the government interfering.

      So anyway, you’re correct and most of us besides the resident clover clan agree.

  12. ekrampitzjr
    October 7, 2013 at 4:59 pm

    Quick history lesson about airbag mandates.

    The frontal bags were always intended to be used with seatbelts. But the US government testing—which led to forceful deployments that could kill children and smaller adults—specified that the bag be capable of restraining a 200+ pound man who was not wearing a belt. Talk about hypocrisy. That was the government’s fault, not that of the automakers.

    In the early 1990s through 1996 passive motorized belts were allowed as an alternative to frontal airbags. They didn’t work as well as normal belts in a collision, people disconnected them, and many of the belt motors were prone to trouble anyway. Hence bags became the only acceptable way of meeting passive restraint standards in a frontal collision. This brought about the only halfway good result of the whole passive-restraint mandate, which was the return of normal three-point belts.

    I wonder about the stated cost of replacing airbags. In 1997 I had had a brand new 1997 Ford Escort wagon all of a week when a suicidal deer blindsided me from high brush on the other side of a rural road at night. It smashed the left headlight assembly, crumpled the hood, broke the windshield after bouncing off it, and not least, popped both airbags. The damage was $3,500, of which $1,300 was the airbag replacement: $600 driver’s side, $700 passenger’s side.

    Now, that’s not cheap, but it’s also a far cry from the kind of prices being quoted for airbags on today’s new cars using the same exact technology. An airbag uses a plastic cover to match the steering wheel or dash, a (rather cheaply made) bag, and the inflator mechanism with electrical connector—and not much more. Sensors are elsewhere in the body. Therefore, I smell price gouging on the newer stuff. Not that I like airbag mandates in the first place, I don’t, but clearly some manufacturers now are charging what the market will bear for replacements.

    • Ed
      October 7, 2013 at 5:27 pm

      “The frontal bags were always intended to be used with seatbelts. But the US government testing—which led to forceful deployments that could kill children and smaller adults—specified that the bag be capable of restraining a 200+ pound man who was not wearing a belt. Talk about hypocrisy. That was the government’s fault, not that of the automakers.”

      So that’s why an airbag will whup your ass if you’re a tall adult, and can kill your ass if you’re a small adult or a child.

      I was driving an old ’91 Cadillac DeVille that I bought used. A deer jumped in front of me while the car was going about 65. It happened in a curve on a four lane truck route and tore the front end up good, but the airbag didn’t pop. Apparently, the airbag had been taken out for whatever reason, before I bought it.

      I’m very glad the airbag wasn’t there. If it had blown up in my face, I probably would have left the road at 65 mph and could have been killed. As it was, a deer weighing maybe 160 lbs had so little effect that I didn’t even leave my lane. That’s a case where I didn’t need the airbag that surely would have jumped on me since the grille where the sensor was located wasn’t even there, and the sensor had taken enough of a hit that the bracket was bent, once I stopped to look at the damage.

      My car wasn’t destroyed and I wasn’t hurt, thanks to the airbag being missing, but that deer was fuuuuucked up.

  13. Charles
    October 9, 2013 at 5:38 pm

    Sorry to “hijack” this thread as it may be slightly irrelevant but this is too important to be forgotten on another thread:

    Well Eric I guess people are never clover enough as this article from Northern Ireland suggests:

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-northern-ireland-24450568

    In fact the latter might make your blood boil as it has mine:

    http://www.u.tv/News/Campaign-urges-road-users-to-belt-up/4a68b08f-85aa-455d-8c0b-bbbd024ea9ef

  14. Tor Minotaur
    October 17, 2013 at 8:31 am

    Come on all you rich greedy LIbertarians. Will no one transfer just a bit of their wealth to the site and sponsor the less fortunate Clover?

    Ghetto Folks In Section 8 Housing Blinging
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4ltVr8xDz98

    Congresswoman Speier Pleads to Save Food Stamps
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cUNzQGIXr3I

    Stupid Black Who Still Support Obama
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F-Zv8pOxASs

    • Boothe
      October 17, 2013 at 9:10 am

      Tor – I was talking to a flag pole humping vet just yesterday and he was lamenting that he had already paid $33K in taxes this year. His implied point was there’s no excuse for this “government (non) shutdown.” As I explained to him, no one was stopping him from cutting the government a check for even more money. After all, if you want to keep the state worshipers’ death shrines and idols open, pay for them yourself. I stated that a good Democrat would do just that. He said he wasn’t a good Democrat. But I already knew this since he espouses the “warfare/wellfare” state, rather than the “welfare/warfare” state. However, the “good Democrat” who was in the room eavesdropping got pissed off and huffily walked out (but never said a word). Ha!

      Ever notice how these statists, regardless of the “team” they affiliate with, tend to only be generous with other people’s money? Terms like “false dichotomy”, “cognitive dissonance” and “confirmation bias” are completely lost on them because they beeelieeeve in the state. The condition appears to go beyond willful ignorance and seems downright delusional. I’m pretty sure that until the whole financial and governmental shooting match caves in and these ass-clowns are standing on the street with a fist full of worthless Zimbabwe dollars and no Tee-Vee to tell them what to think or government to “save” them, most of them will not acknowledge the truth. Some probably still won’t even then. It’s enough to make you want to puke.

      • Tor Minotaur
        October 17, 2013 at 9:35 am

        An obedient soldier to the end. Makes 160k+ a year assuming he’s married, doesn’t even flinch when “asked” to throw 21%+ of his life’s work into the DC rat hole monetary sewer system.

        Assuming he works from age 16-66 and lives to be 75 years old. He sacrificed 11 years / 15% / $2 million of his life for the delusion of ‘Murica. Wasting money is wasting time is wasting life.

        Rare historical photo musical collage
        http://www.liveleak.com/view?i=004_1381825910.

      • Pericles
        October 17, 2013 at 10:39 am

        God how I hate democrats.

        Imagine going thru your fucking life thinking you own other people and their earnings just because you out vote them. Filthy fucking parasites.

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