Study: Mini and Microcars Sustain Pricey Damage

June 11, 2009

Urban drivers often pick mini and microcars because they are affordable, fuel efficient, and easy to park on city streets. Fender-benders are hazards of urban driving, and just one of them can add up to thousands of dollars in repair costs because the bumpers don’t adequately protect vehicles from damage. None of the bumpers on seven mini and microcars the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety recently tested earned the top rating of good, and just 1, the Smart Fortwo, was acceptable. Five out of the seven earned poor ratings and one earned a marginal.

The Institute evaluated results according to a new ratings protocol for low-speed tests that better represents the damage insurance claims centers assess daily. Four tests were conducted: two full-width and two corner impacts.

In its test of micro and minicars, the worst performer was the Kia Rio with $9,380 total damage in the four tests. The Rio’s repair bill was worse than those of most other small and midsize cars and minivans the Institute tested. This minicar racked up about $3,700 damage, or 30 percent of its purchase price, in the full-front test alone. The Toyota Yaris, Honda Fit, Hyundai Accent, and Mini Cooper also earned poor ratings for bumper performance.

The Smart Fortwo was best overall, with $3,281 total damage in the four tests. Costs were relatively low for this microcar because its prepainted plastic body panels are dent-resistant, inexpensive, and easy to replace. The Chevrolet Aveo, a minicar, was next best, with $4,490 total damage.

“You should be able to drive your car home after a low-speed crash, but too often vehicles are sidelined by only minor impacts,” said Institute senior vice president Joe Nolan. “Damage to sheet metal, air-conditioning condensers, and safety equipment like headlights should never happen when your car is bumped at just 3 to 6 miles an hour. Bad bumpers add up to one big headache for consumers.”

These are the first bumper test results released under a new Institute ratings protocol that’s based on repair costs averaged and weighted to reflect real-world damage patterns. These averaged and weighted repair costs determine each vehicle’s overall rating of good, acceptable, marginal, or poor in the four bumper tests. Weighted average repairs must be less than $500 for a good rating, less than $1,000 for acceptable, and less than $1,500 for marginal. Repairs of $1,500 or more earn bumpers a poor rating.

“Bumpers can be designed so there’s no damage in these low-speed impacts. At a minimum, repairs should cost less than the typical insurance deductible for a collision, which is $500,” Nolan explained. “This is why we set the benchmark for a good rating at less than $500. Damage at this level may be only cosmetic, so consumers may choose not to bother with repairs. Likewise, $1,000 is about the cost of a new bumper cover, reinforcement bar, and paint, while $1,500 includes replacing vehicle parts like grilles and headlights. When you reach $1,000 the bumper isn’t doing its job, and anything $1,500 or higher is egregious.”

Besides this group of minicars and a microcar, the Institute has tested 54 other vehicles under the new ratings protocol. The Smart Fortwo joined the Ford Focus and Scion xB as the only cars to earn acceptable ratings. The Aveo is 1 of 15 to rate marginal. Of the 61 cars the Institute has tested so far, 43 rated poor.

IIHS said bumpers are supposed to absorb the energy of low-speed collisions and slow vehicles before there’s damage to expensive-to-repair parts like grilles, hoods, and fenders. They also should extend to vehicle corners to protect costly lights and fenders.

Bumpers have to be tall enough to engage, and stay engaged with, the bumpers on other vehicles in collisions, even during emergency braking. Otherwise, the bumpers bypass each other when vehicles collide, overriding and underriding so crash energy is absorbed by body parts instead of bumpers.

To view the ratings, visit http://www.iihs.org/news/rss/pr061109.html.

Source: IIHS

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