Is It Time To Demand Better Performance On Overlap Crash Tests?

Derek Kreindler
by Derek Kreindler

The 2013 Toyota RAV4, which underwent a major redesign earlier this year, was saddled with a “Poor” rating in the IIHS’ “small overlap” front crash test, the lowest designation possible.

The test, introduced last year, shows how vehicles handle a 40 mph impact with a 25 percent frontal overlap with a 5-foot tall barrier. A statement released by the IIHS outlines the fairly horrific sounding results of the crash test.

“The driver’s space was seriously compromised by intruding structure, and the dummy’s left foot was trapped by crushed and buckled sheet metal in the footwell. Injury measures on the dummy indicated a high risk of injury to the lower left leg. The dummy’s head barely contacted the frontal airbag before sliding off the left side as the steering column moved more than 7 inches to the right, resulting in little airbag cushioning for the chest. Additionally, the safety belt allowed excessive forward movement of the dummy’s head and torso, contributing to the head hitting the instrument panel.”

The RAV4 is hardly alone is performing poorly in this test. The Buick Encore, Ford Escape, Hyundai Tucson, Jeep Patriot and Kia Sportage all performed “poorly”. The BMW X1, Honda CR-V, Mazda CX-5, Nissan Rogue, Jeep Wrangler and Volkswagen Tiguan received “Marginal” ratings. The only vehicle that did well as the 2013 Subaru Forester. And yet somehow, a number of these vehicles are rated as a “Top Safety Pick” despite apparently being able to injure you severely in a crash that is quite common.

The poor performance of these vehicles has a fair amount of relevance in the real world. A recent report in Road & Track looked at offset front crashes and found that they are often fatal, especially at speeds of 40 mph. Many vehicle safety systems are designed with a full-on front crash in mind, but not the sort of offset collision the IIHS is testing for here – which happens to be fairly prevalent in real life. The 25 percent overlap crash, if it occurred in real life, would be particularly dangerous according to R&T. With that kind of impact, the frame rails play no part in helping the car to decelerate, and that means a much more violent impact for anyone inside the car.

Only a quarter of the mass ahead of the safety cell remains to absorb the impact, and that’s not enough. The impact then pushes right through the front wheel, driving the suspension backwards. Depending on the vehicle and its speed, this could collapse the steering column, buckle the A pillar (pushing it back toward the driver or front passenger), and if the accident is severe enough, begin to crimp the door frame, front floor section, and door rail.

Despite the general unhappiness surrounding the increasing size and mass of new vehicles, a lot of it has to do with safety and crash protection. This can only be seen as a positive: car accidents are violent, traumatic events that can cause horrific injuries or death for those involved. It seems as if improving the performance of vehicles on these overlap tests should be a priority in the next generation of safety improvements for vehicles, given the prevalence of these crashes and how dangerous they can be to those inside the car. How those changes would impact vehicle design and engineering is something I’d like to know more about, but unfortunately, I lack the engineering/design/regulatory background to make any kind of prediction.

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  • Kurtamaxxguy Kurtamaxxguy on Jul 13, 2013

    Unlike (apparently) Toyota, Subaru paid attention to this '12 test's introduction when designing the '14 Forester. If you look inside the '14 Forester engine bay, you'll find two substantial frame rails stretching from firewall to bumper frame, angled outward to help catch a narrow-width frontal collision. FYI, Volvos deform a bit less than Subaru, while both are far better than anything else.

    • Kurtamaxxguy Kurtamaxxguy on Jul 15, 2013

      ...and looking very closely at the Subaru crash, it showed the narrow frontal impact just missing the left frame rail, but apparently enough resistance from suspension, other components and the firewall/A pillar structure kept passenger compartment from collapsing.

  • BangForYourBuck BangForYourBuck on Jul 13, 2013

    And why does the lowly Forester keep out-performing year after year?? It's lighter and smaller!

  • Jeff S I don't believe gm will die but that it will continue to shrink in product and market share and it will probably be acquired by a foreign manufacturer. I doubt gm lacks funds as it did in 2008 and that they have more than enough cash at hand but gm will not expand as it did in the past and the emphasis is more on profitability and cutting costs to the bone. Making gm a more attractive takeover target and cut costs at the expense of more desirable and reliable products. At the time of Farago's article I was in favor of the Government bailout more to save jobs and suppliers but today I would not be in favor of the bailout. My opinions on gm have changed since 2008 and 2009 and now I really don't care if gm survives or not.
  • Kwik_Shift I was a GM fan boy until it ended in 2013 when I traded in my Avalanche to go over to Nissan.
  • Stuart de Baker I didn't bother to read this article. I'll wait until a definitive headline comes out, and I'll be surprised if Tesla actually produces the Cybertruck. It certainly looks impractical for both snowy and hot sunny weather.
  • Stuart de Baker This is very interesting information. I was in no danger of buying a Tesla. I love my '08 Civic (stick), and it feels just as responsive as when I bought it 11 years ago with 35k on the clock (now 151k), and barring mishaps, I plan to keep it for the next 25 years or so, which would put me into my mid-90s, assuming I live that long. On your information, I will avoid renting Teslas.
  • RHD The only people who would buy this would be those convinced by a website that they are great, and order one sight-unseen. They would have to have be completely out of touch with every form of media for the last year. There might actually be a few of these people, but not very many. They would also have to be completely ignorant of the Hyundai Excel. (Vinfast seems to make the original Excel look like a Camry in comparison.)