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Thread: When a "good" crash test score really isn't so great

  1. #1
    Vulture of The Western World Eric's Avatar
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    When a "good" crash test score really isn't so great

    Those crash test scores you read about are more than a little misleading. You read, "highest possible" or "Five stars" - and conclude, reasonably, that the car in question must be pretty safe.

    Well, maybe it is. But maybe it's not.

    For example, I read news coverage the other day about the crash test performance of the new Smart ForTwo micro-car. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), which along with the federal government is the main source for the crash test rankings you see advertised and talked about on the news, awarded the Smart car the highest-possible score - "good" - for crashworthiness in frontal and side-impact collisions.

    Sounds good, right?

    The problem, though, is that the Smart car's "good" performance is only relative to other cars of its type. So while the Smart car is about as good as it gets for a micro-sized car, it's performance is not nearly as good as the performance of a mid-sized or full-size car - even if the mid-sized or full-sized car has a lower ranking (or fewer "stars") relative to other cars in its segment.

    Size does matter - at least, when it comes to crashworthiness.

    The IIHS itself concedes the point; it just doesn't publicize it - or try to educate consumers. IIHS President Adrian Lund says that the Smart car, being a tiny two-seater designed for in-city use, is not as likely to be used on the highways - and thus, less likely to be involved in a high-speed crash, where its small size could become a huge liability, especially if the impact is with a fixed object such as a telephone pole.

    Or a larger, heavier car.

    Neither the IIIHS nor the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), which does the crash testing for the government, make these disparities clear to the general public. Quite the opposite, in fact. Each car - from the smallest econobox to the mightiest luxury sedan - gets the same-sounding "good" (or "average") rating and number of "stars." But if you think a 5,000 lb. S-Class Mercedes-Benz and a Smart ForTwo are equivalent in terms of their crashworthiness by dint of the fact that both have the same "good" rating and five "stars" - you'd better read the fine print.

    A more honest system of rating the crashworthiness of new cars would be based on a single, objective standard - for example, what happens when this car hits a fixed barrier at 40 mph? Not relative to other cars like it - but compared to all others cars on the market, from the smallest to the largest.

    Crash test results would not be tricked-up to make smaller, less crashworthy cars seem safer by comparing their performance only with cars that are comparable in size/weight. This way, consumers would clearly understand that a full-size car is almost always going to be much less likely to get you killed in the event of an accident than a compact or subcompact.

    But we can't have that, of course. Too above board.

    The irony of all this is that the self-styled saaaaafety gurus who obsess and preach and prattle about things like crashworthiness scores are precisely the ones responsible for the deceptive, dishonest IIHS and NHTSA crash ratings system. You'd think these people would want to warn the public about the inherent, built-in dangers of smaller, lighter cars relative to larger, heavier ones. It's no different than wearing - or not wearing - a seat belt. To argue (or allow people to believe) that a smaller car is just as "safe" as a larger/heavier car because it received a "good" rating in crash tests not governed by an across-the-board standard is the functional equivalent of letting people believe they're just as safe riding unbuckled as buckled up.

    It's actually quite surprising that lawyers haven't seized on this business and filed a mighty class-action lawsuit on behalf of all the people - probably tens of thousands of them - who have been injured or even killed in smaller cars they assumed were he most crashworthy things on the road - based on "good" rankings and all those happy golden stars.

    It seems clear the real push is not for occupant safety; if it were, we'd hear a lot more about the virtues of bigger, heavier vehices - instead of the constant barrage of negative press about "gas hogs" and so on. Rather, the object seems to be to try to gull people into buying smaller, lighter cars by making them appear to be as safe as larger vehicles - even though they almost never are or can be, given the realities of physical laws.

    The saaaafety lobby may be pulling this shuck and jive as part of a broader agenda to encourage people to purchase more economical cars, which are usually smaller cars. The elites at IIHS and within the federal government have long been fervent pushers of "downsizing" - and it stands to reason they'd fudge the crash testing process (or obscure its results, anyhow) to make the smaller cars they favor for us seem more sensible.

    But maybe you'd rather pay about more (even a lot more) for fuel if it means your next new car will be significantly more crashworthy. If so, keep in mind that larger is almost always safer.

    No matter what the stars might be trying to tell (and sell) you.

    END

  2. #2
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    Re: When a "good" crash test score really isn't so great

    Very good article, I just posted it up on the main site with pictures:




    http://www.ericpetersautos.com/home/...7&Itemid=10853


  3. #3
    MrMike
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    Re: When a "good" crash test score really isn't so great

    I agree, that was a good article, Eric. I'm a knowledgeable car guy, but I always thought the IIHS's crash test ratings were reported on an absolute scale, i.e., not relative to cars of the same type. Ironically, it was Katie Couric on the CBS Evening News who corrected me. The Smart car's "highest possibe rating" made the national news and she reported it. I was surprised because it defied common sense. It was at the end of her report that she mentioned in passing that the rating was relative to other cars in its class. I immediately thought, "Ah hah!. So that's it." The Smart car might fare well in a collision with a Honda Fit, but not if it hits my 4,000 lb. SUV. You are correct, the IIHS's rating system, as well as the way it is usually reported, is intentionally deceptive. Thanks for the timely article.

  4. #4
    Senior Member misterdecibel's Avatar
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    Re: When a "good" crash test score really isn't so great

    Your "4,000 lb. SUV" must be a miniature, even a Ford Escape weighs more than that.

    Hopefully, massive SUVs are a dying breed, and the roads will be safe for subcompacts again.

  5. #5
    MrMike
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    Re: When a "good" crash test score really isn't so great

    Quote Originally Posted by misterdecibel
    Your "4,000 lb. SUV" must be a miniature, even a Ford Escape weighs more than that.
    My SUV is a 1995 Isuzu Rodeo V6 AWD. Edmunds calls it a midsize and lists its curb weight as 4,105 lbs. It is about the same size and weight as a Toyota 4Runner or a Nissan Pathfinder; definitely not "miniature." And you're wrong about the Ford Escape. A 2007 model with V6 and AWD only weighs 3,464 lbs. according to Edmunds.




  6. #6
    Vulture of The Western World Eric's Avatar
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    Re: When a "good" crash test score really isn't so great

    Quote Originally Posted by MrMike
    Quote Originally Posted by misterdecibel
    Your "4,000 lb. SUV" must be a miniature, even a Ford Escape weighs more than that.
    My SUV is a 1995 Isuzu Rodeo V6 AWD. Edmunds calls it a midsize and lists its curb weight as 4,105 lbs. It is about the same size and weight as a Toyota 4Runner or a Nissan Pathfinder; definitely not "miniature." And you're wrong about the Ford Escape. A 2007 model with V6 and AWD only weighs 3,464 lbs. according to Edmund


    Yep - and also, keep in mind that the Escape is a car-based, light-duty "crossover" built on a FWD/AWD platform. It's not really fair to compare it to truck-based SUVs that have truck-type 4WD systems with Low range gearing, etc.

  7. #7
    Senior Member misterdecibel's Avatar
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    Re: When a "good" crash test score really isn't so great

    Yeah, I see now that the 2008-2009 Escape curb weight is between 3200 and 3500, depending on equipment. I think it's was Eric's report of the introduction of the current model that gave me the impression that it was close to 4500 pounds.

  8. #8
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    Re: When a "good" crash test score really isn't so great

    My 2000 CR-V is around 3100 pounds. The new ones are heavier.

    Chip H.


    Former owner: 2012 Honda Civic LX, 2006 Honda Ridgeline RTL, 2000 Honda CR-V EX, 2003 MINI Cooper S, 1992 Honda Accord LX, 1999 Mercedes ML-320, 1995 VW Jetta GLX, 1991 Mercury Capri XR2, 1981 Mercury Zephyr, 1975 Chevrolet Impala

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