Crunch: IIHS Says Bumper Differences Prove Expensive in Car, SUV Collisions

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What happens when a car crashes into a high-riding SUV? Unnecessary repair bills, says the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Although it may seem somewhat obvious, a new report from the group says drivers may face additional repair costs when their passenger car bumpers strike those of a taller truck or SUV model.

The federal government regulates bumper heights of cars, stating that they must be between 16 and 20 inches above the road surface. SUVs and pickup trucks, however, face no such regulation. As a result, there are frequently large discrepancies in bumper heights, which can cause plenty of damage when a car collides with a larger truck.

"SUVs and cars share the road," Joe Nolan, chief administrative officer of the IIHS, said in a prepared statement. "The problem is they don't share the same bumper rules, and consumers end up paying the price."

That price, according to the study, ranges anywhere from $850 to $6000, even to repair damage occurred at speeds as low as 10 mph. Replacing the damaged bodywork can be expensive, but the real cost of the mismatched bumpers is from replacing engine or cooling system parts that often lurk behind them. Due to the mismatched bumper heights, a car-to-SUV crash has a higher chance of destroying radiators and cooling fans, disabling the vehicle after an accident and driving up repair costs.

To illustrate this point, the IIHS selected seven pairs of vehicles, each consisting of a single car and SUV built by the same automaker. The group then ran crash testing on each pair, allowing them to collide against one another at 10 mph. According to the IIHS, it believed it would find some uniformity in bumper heights between a single automaker's SUV and passenger car models -- but this wasn't the case.

In a worst-case scenario, the bumper gap was large enough to allow an SUV to completely ride up the car's hood and front fenders. The best-case scenario, however, was still fairly expensive. The bumper heights of the Honda Civic and CR-V are roughly two inches different, but the impact still racked up $3000 of damage when the CR-V hit the Civic, and $6000 worth in the inverse.

"Of the seven car-SUV pairs we tested, we can't point to a single one as a model of compatibility because combined damage estimates run into the thousands of dollars for even the best performers," said Nolan. "In the real world, that money comes straight out of consumers' wallets through deductibles and insurance premiums."

Nolan suggests regulating truck and SUV bumper heights could help lower these costs. In fact, his employer petitioned the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for just that in 2008, to seemingly no avail. Should SUV and pickup bumper designs face the same regulations as passenger cars? Let us know your thoughts on the issue within the comments section below.

Source: IIHS

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