By on September 8, 2017

Sacrificial Tailgate Panel Honda CR-V, Image: Honda/OP

Dan writes:

Hey Sajeev,

Perhaps you or doppleganger Sanjeev have an answer for this. Why are a lot of SUV/Crossovers these days ending up with cut lines along the lower third of their liftgates?

This is showing up on the Ford Escape, 2012-2016 Honda CR-V, Hyundai/Kia crossovers, and maybe some others I can’t remember. Is there a removable panel here, or what? I’ve noticed that this has disappeared in the 2017 CR-V’s redesign, but there’s still plenty of brand new CUVs that have this design feature.

Sajeev answers:

Son, let me tell you something: that Sanjeev’s overhyped like a pumpkin spice latte, with an even worse flavor profile!

To your query: for years we’ve known SUVs are faux tough, and that rear CUV bumpers do the insurance industry no favors. Today’s crop of flat-faced intermediaries are a joke, compared to Thursday’s Vellum Venom design analysis of some monumental bumpers. Proof of such inadequacy lies (so to speak) in the flat posterior below.2017 Ford Escape Tailgate and Bumper, Image: Wikimedia Commons CC-BY-2.0I reckon that, as the modern minivan’s biggest sales threat, most (all?) CUV tailgates went downtown for extra practicality. Thus their bumpers — in an unorthodox gentrification metaphor — took the hint, moving to less valuable real estate. Sacrificial body parts entered the scene, offering some protection after the land grab: behold Ford Escape part number CJ5Z78423A42APTM.

It’s sad, but logical and expected. No automaker wants to cram another minivan down our collective SUV-loving throats, and their CUVs must meet the public safety  collision repair concerns of the insurance companies.

Regarding the 2017 CR-V’s one-piece tailgate, this eBay auction suggests Honda told the insurance industry to go pound sand. Photos of the damage suggest the eBay tailgate coulda been saved had a sacrificial body part been implemented. Better have full coverage on one of them! 

[Image: Honda/OP, Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 2.0)]

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43 Comments on “Vellum Venom Vignette: Pointless Bumpers, Sacrificial Body Parts...”


  • avatar
    bikegoesbaa

    I assumed that those panels were to mitigate the damage or repair costs that occur when somebody unthinkingly opens their tailgate up into a solid object.

    Due to the height of the bumper and the height of the roof the tailgates on these things reach quite high when open, and the bottom edge is the part most likely to be damaged.

    Anecdotally it seems to be the kids who are most likely to do this. I’ve cringed many times in a parking garage when somebody’s little Jaydyn opens the tailgate full-force into an overhead concrete beam.

    Easily replaceable panels are a good start,but they should really be unpainted and/or rubberized.

    • 0 avatar
      kefkafloyd

      This actually makes a lot of sense. I figured that they would for easier access to things that live in the tailgate, like backup cameras or sensors.

    • 0 avatar
      Garrett

      This is why I miss the days of chrome bumpers.

      Cheap and easy to fix.

      • 0 avatar
        Johnster

        What are bumpers? What is chrome?

        Cheap and easy to fix?

        Bwaa ha ha ha!

        • 0 avatar
          Lorenzo

          I had a 1963 Chrysler with a bumper. It was chrome plated too. It was also 1/4 inch plate steel that had been stamped into shape with one blow of a 5 million pound hydraulic press.

          Mine had a 2-inch deep vertical crease near the middle of the front bumper. I was told the freight car got the worst of it, getting knocked off its track.

          It actually WAS cheap and easy to fix: I left it as-is, just as the previous owner had, after jousting with the boxcar. It served as a powerful deterrent to young ladies in Corollas not to cut me off.

  • avatar
    JimZ

    they’re there because the exterior styling dicated something which couldn’t feasibly be stamped out of sheet metal. there’s only so far you can bend and draw steel, you know.

  • avatar
    turf3

    Why did the pair of rear doors get replaced with giant lifting tailgates?

    The doors take up less room, don’t rise way up into the air, can’t smack you under the chin going up (or hit you on the head coming down), and can easily be opened by hand by a person of even modest strength, rather than requiring a motor to open/close.

    I have owned a small van with two rear doors, and I never ever wished for a giant lifting tailgate. I have owned a small SUV with a giant lifting tailgate, and I have often wished for a pair of doors.

    And as far as bumpers, if the insurance industry is so powerful, why don’t they just make the automakers give us back our steel and aluminum bumpers mounted on springs with black rubber strips, so if you bump something with your bumper (or someone else does) it just springs back instead of sticking you with a $1000+ repair bill to replace all the shattered plastic bits?

    • 0 avatar
      dividebytube

      My Mini Clubman has rear split doors instead of a hatch. They look neat but are hard to see out of via the rear view mirror. The door jamb where the two doors meet makes a nice solid column of no visibility.

    • 0 avatar
      Ridgerunner

      The hatch is also touted to provide a canopy/protection for the person(s) loading or unloading in adverse weather conditions.

    • 0 avatar
      bikegoesbaa

      I’ve heard several parents say that lift gate style rear doors are a godsend when changing diapers in inclement weather.

      Just change the kid in the cargo area while the door keeps the rain off.

    • 0 avatar
      ash78

      Liftgates also tend to protrude rearward far less than hinged doors. There are a lot of benefits, but the only drawback being overhead clearance issues. Our minivan just barely fits in the garage with room to open the liftgate AND room to walk around the front of the car. It’s such tight clearance, I had to buy a floor bumper because there’s so little room for error. But otherwise, I love it — it’s like a built-in umbrella for tailgating and picnicking, loading cargo, etc.

      • 0 avatar
        turf3

        I am not sure the liftgate really reduces required length that much in real world use, though. You generally stand behind the liftgate while it’s going up, so the space required is the protrusion of the liftgate plus your own thickness. But you generally stand to the side of the rear door you’re opening (in other words, you open the right hand rear door with your right hand, while standing facing the left hand rear door), so the only space required is the swing of the door.

    • 0 avatar
      JimZ

      the insurance industry doesn’t really give a sh** about bumpers anymore. Those big 5 mph chrome battering rams from the ’70s didn’t make cars safe. The insurance industry would rather cars sacrifice themselves to protect the squishy meatsacks inside. It’s a lot cheaper to write a check to repair or replace a busted-up car than it is to repair a busted-up person.

      • 0 avatar
        TrailerTrash

        I understand the saving of lives and the sacrificing of the car doing this. But why are they now putting the front grills and other expensive parts at or beyond the bumper like the new CX9? I see other SUVs as well that the grills are equal to the bumper.
        Seems like asking for trouble and cost.

        • 0 avatar
          Lorenzo

          The grills are sacrificial parts too, in a collision. They’re now flush with the bumpers to be “pedestrian friendly”.

          Instead of mowing them down and running them over, front ends are designed to lift them up and roll them over the hood into the windshield.That prevents broken legs.

          With steeply raked windshields, another benefit is, if you hit ’em hard enough, they roll right up onto the roof where they’re safe from being run over by other cars!

      • 0 avatar
        econobiker

        Bravo on your descripton and very true…

    • 0 avatar
      kefkafloyd

      I’m still surprised that the Chevy Astro / Ford Excursion triple split opening wasn’t more popular. The rear glass is a liftgate split in half, with the bottom half as swing-out barn doors.

    • 0 avatar
      WheelMcCoy

      Liftgate… what everyone said. Just adding some have a light to provide overhead illumination which is really thoughtful.

    • 0 avatar
      Pig_Iron

      @turf3 “Why did the pair of rear doors get replaced with giant lifting tailgates?”

      Cost, liability, and fitment.
      Liftgate = 2 hinges + 1 latch
      Cargo doors (per FMVSS) = 4 hinges + 3 latches

      Trust me, they would get rid of side sliders in a heartbeat too if they could as the sliding hinge and track is uber-expensive and fitment is a bear.

    • 0 avatar
      Willyam

      There’s one more reason as yet unmentioned. Global compatibility.

      My first-gen CRV (as well as all of the silly cockroach Gen 1’s STILL on the road everywhere) has a RIGHT-opening tailgate door, and glass that opens separately. As useful as it is in the driveway, it’s darned weird at the curb with a parked car behind you. There must have been enormous costs in reengineering the pillar to the left side as it also held the spare.

      Also maybe smaller drivers? Had a friend on the distance-testing team for Ford who was suggested adding the pull-strap to the ’98 Explorer gate, as those of petite stature couldn’t get to the handle in order to close it.

      • 0 avatar
        turf3

        I was talking about the pair of doors, not a single wide door, which seems to me to offer all the negatives of the liftgate, plus all the negatives of the pair of rear doors.

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    Does anyone else remember the ‘water bumpers’ that were all the rage back in the mid 70’s to early 80’s? The Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) had them on all their buses and most Toronto cabs had them. They looked particularly ‘fetching’ on Checkers.

    Large water filled bladders, that burst when hit, thus dissipating the ‘energy’ of the collision. And if it was a ‘minor’ enough collision your only repair cost was to replace some inexpensive rubber bladders.

    Today’s bumpers often cost more to replace/fix than do body parts. A vehicle design aspect that annoys me to no end. Personally I prefer the cheap ‘black’ bumper rather than a colour matched one, for this very reason. And why would a designer place lights in a bumper where they are almost guaranteed to get broken?

    From the website that shall not be named regarding water bumpers:”In an initial test sampling, nearly 100 taxi fleets from New York to San Francisco reported unexpected benefits from the use of Water Bumpers. Results were sizable reductions in accident-repair costs (down 56%), down-time costs (50% lower), and accident-claim payments (reduced 58%), as well as in time lost by drivers due to accident injuries…. The hydraulic effect of just simple tap water in this rubber cell did the work of spring and shock absorber, like your cars suspension system, and could be simply bolted on with little difficulty for most cars. I have seen the films where they have a man sitting on the trunk of a car equipped with his water bumper, and have another car also with his water bumper mounted run into the parked car at 15 mph. Not only was there no discernible damage, but the volunteer had his legs between these two cars and did not hardly suffer much bruising.”

    • 0 avatar
      bikegoesbaa

      As I understand it, the water bumpers each took 7+ gallons of water to fill.

      For front and rear bumpers, that’s ~112 lbs in water alone.

      It’s a neat idea, but water is heavy.

      • 0 avatar
        Arthur Dailey

        Yes that is true. However with modern engine and transmission technology what would the cost/benefit of adding 100lbs yet reducing accident costs and damage be?

        The vehicles of the water bumper era were generally much heavier and had much worse gas mileage regardless of the bumpers.

    • 0 avatar
      Garrett

      If teenagers knew about them, they would run around and intentionally trigger them!

      • 0 avatar
        Arthur Dailey

        Not sure if you could even trigger them with a framing hammer. It took a considerable weight/blow to rupture them.

        As per the article quoted, greatly reduced claims and repair costs when in use for Toronto Transit and taxi companies. And for pedestrians struck by them.

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    Year or so back I was going through one of those little yield turns where a busy street crosses a 4 lane highway. Stopped in front of me was a little Kia Soul waiting for traffic to clear. I was looking for the gap in traffic and not paying adequate attention to him. Most people in that intersection find the gap and then just punch it.

    I surged forward and he didn’t. All that happened to the plastic front bumper of my Highlander popped out one of the plugs that hide the tow points and a slight change in the panel gap between the bumper and the headlight/fender cut-line.

    The Soul on the other hand ended up with a nice little dent on the lip of the hatch just at the rear bumper hatch meeting. Seemed like a weird place for damage all things considered. Thank goodness I wasn’t driving a bro-dozer or I would have at least shattered his rear window.

  • avatar
    deanst

    The idiocy of having a vehicle purporting to convey a sense of sportiness or ruggedness while at the same time essentially having no rear bumper boggles my mind. I could never buy one of these vehicles. What do people in New York City do with these bumperless vehicles?

    On a somewhat related note, I was just at a grocery store picking up an internet order, and the guy next to me carefully backed up his vehicle in the designated delivery spot. As his order was being wheeled out of the store, he activates his power hatch opener, and just as it gains some speed, it slams into the pole behind him (which designates the pickup spots).

    Faux sporty people are an endless source of amusement to me.

  • avatar
    TrailerTrash

    I guess I am confused by the entire new front and rear designs of SUV and CUVs.

    I was looking around the lot at a Mazda dealer while my 09 was once again in for a recall and noticed the CX9 and the strange front grill/bumper. It comes out beyond the lower “bumper”. Is this supposed to be part of the bumper?

    Why would I want to pay for a new grill as well as the bumper with even the slightest collision???

    Are bumpers required to limit/save damage to the car at all these days? Or are they just part of the save the occupants at all cost, sacrificial body today?

    I can’t see how insurance companies don’t penalized consumers when they buy these futuristic designs that have expensive body parts protruding out farther than the bumper areas.

    • 0 avatar
      brandloyalty

      Insurance companies have mixed missions. On one hand they can profit from lower losses relative to premiums, and on the other hand the greater the damages the bigger the industry and the larger the opportunities for profit.

    • 0 avatar
      econobiker

      Exterior bumpers are not truly bumpers anymore but areodynamic covers for the crushable foam and crushable metal beams mounted behind them on the vehicle body points. Its a juggling act of safety, weight, areodynamics, gas mileage, vehicle sales price, replacement costs. etc. the vehicle is essentially designed as a crash box ready to allow its entire front end to be crushed to help allow the occupants survive. That’s why you see front end impacts crushing the car yet rear ended cars not as visually damaged.

      Example: The IIHS, a private entity supported by insurance companies, only cares about safey and costs in the guise of reducing costs of payouts by insurance companies. IE safer cars = better accident survival for occupants and less expensive crash damage = lower replacement costs. Of course the IIHS doesn’t seem to really care about gas mileage for the user or even really design for areodynamics, just the accident outcome.

      • 0 avatar
        dvandtl

        The first half of you IIHS assumption is correct. The crash data is used to make stupid drivers survive their idiocy. However, the IIHS data really does nothing to cut down the cost of repair. The manufacturers don’t give a hoot about that; in fact, I’d argue they design a lot of parts to break easily or not be reusable (those individual letter emblems are a prime example) to pad their pockets on the repair side of things.

        Manufacturers design cars to three basic criteria: pass the crash test with as high a rating as possible, get the best mpg for a better CAFE rating and make the product as inexpensive to build on the assembly line at they can. Styling and practicality come a distant fourth and fifth.

  • avatar
    Mike N.

    Always wondered why some crossovers have that faux split tailgate look. Speaking of, I find the split tailgate on my X5 very useful. Kinda surprised they’re not more common (only available on X5s, Volvo XC90s, and Range Rovers far as I know).


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