By on June 22, 2017

2015 Honda Fit Overlap Crash Test IIHS. Image: IIHS

Chris writes:

Hi Sajeev,

I’m in the market for a new(er) car to replace my 2005 Nissan Quest. Safety is a very important precondition for my purchase since it will be used to transport my kids around our very congested city. I was thinking about leasing a 2017 model and narrowed my search down to a Chevy Equinox, Nissan Rogue, or Mitsubishi Outlander (all about $200/month for 36 months with $3K down). In crunching the numbers, I quickly realized that with the $10,200 or so that I’d spend on leasing a car that I’d eventually have to part ways with, I could easily buy a low mileage example that was between 3-6 years old.

Looking on Craigslist, I found a nice 2010 Equinox with around 60K miles for $9500. It looks just like the 2017 model.

In doing my research on it, I could not find any data on its performance on the IIHS small overlap crash test, though it earned a rating of “good” for the 2014 model. I contacted the Chevrolet support center for information about any structural enhancements that might have been added after MY’10, but they were no help. So, here’s my question:

Could a new car that was engineered a few years before being tested be counted on to perform equally well as its nearly identical younger brother?

Sajeev answers:

First off, kudos to you for keeping safety in mind.  Newer vehicles in general are safer than older ones, but the short answer to your question is a definite maybe.

Long answer: dig into parts interchange reference manuals, looking for part number variances between bumpers, subframes, core supports or any other structural item that bolts to the same body over the life cycle of its design. That’s because safety is sometimes bolted on for higher crash test scores.

Whether the “older” bumpers of the Honda Fit are truly inferior is up for debate: re-designing a part to pass a specific test doesn’t imply overall frontal collision superiority. Not to get on the defensive, but manufacturers do their real-world tests (and computer simulations) before IIHS gets their hands on a production model. Plus, after hearing about fatalities from collisions with trees or head-on impacts with DWI speeders, I reckon lab testing–from any source–has a finite amount of significance in the real world.

While I hesitate to bring up dieselgate in this discussion, I’m still going there: the notion of designing a vehicle to pass a specific test while wholly ignoring the spirit of the exercise comes to mind. Unfair analogy? Opening myself up for a flame war?

I am willing to take my lumps so have at it, Best and Brightest.

[Image: IIHS]

Send your queries to [email protected]com. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice.

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36 Comments on “Piston Slap: The Life Cycle of Structural Enhancements...”

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    Here we go again.

    For $9.5k you get a 7 year old model with 60,000 miles. In 4 years you will have an 11 year old vehicle with lets say 120,000 on it. You will probably want to part with it then. And it will not have a lot of value. And during the intervening 4 years, you may have a number of parts requiring replacement or repair. At the very least new tires and a battery.

    Or for $700 more, you can lease a brand new vehicle that if you chose wisely will be under warranty for the entire time that you drive it and should require nothing more than routine maintenance. And it should have increased and/or added safety features.

    Now I will sit back with the popcorn and my flameproof suit.

    • 0 avatar

      “And it will not have a lot of value.”

      It will have enough value (let’s call it $3k realistically) that totally dispels your math below:

      “Or for $700 more…”

      Having said that, in this particular case of an Equinox with the 2.4L, I would only lease. These engines have been having some pattern issues with stretched timing chains, especially when oil changes are neglected or only done every 10k as Chevy originally suggested (assuming use of synthetic oil, not what Jiffy Lube happened to have on hand that day).

      • 0 avatar

        If you’re going used, I’d say a 2012-2014 CRV (5spd auto, port injected) with lower miles in the $14k-$15kish range is a really safe bet. Drive it for 5 years, it will still be worth close to $10k I think.

        • 0 avatar
          Arthur Dailey

          Honda and Toyota seem to be the safe bets for holding their value as re-sales and anecdotally for less per mile costs.

          Here in the GTA, you do have to pay top dollar for them used.

          • 0 avatar

            I doubt that anyone outside of “the GTA” has any idea where you are. I certainly don’t. Greater Toronto Area? Greater Toledo Area? Greater Tucumcari Area?

            Don’t assume everyone else know your acronyms. (This is for all readers, not just AD)

        • 0 avatar
          30-mile fetch

          He’ll need a 2015 or newer for an acceptable small overlap test score. At $19K for the LX and $23K for the EX in my area, I’d probably try to browbeat the local Chevy dealers for the lowest new Equinox lease as well.

      • 0 avatar
        Arthur Dailey

        Your estimated re-sale is pretty close. Did a quick check of Equinox (Equinii?) for sale in the GTA with the estimated mileage after 4 years of the OP’s ownership. However they were at most 11 years old, so 3 years younger than our final estimate. The average price being asked was $2,700 for cars, still on the road/certified.

        So being optimistic, lets say $2,500 ‘residual value’ plus the $700 in original savings.

        Minus the cost of new tires and a battery.

        So if the OP is lucky and does not need to replace any parts he might be just under $2,000 ahead over 4 years (48 months) by buying used. About $42 per month. That is because he will also need to change the coolant, transmission fluid, and probably rotors/pads and plugs during those 4 years, which he would probably not have to do with a leased vehicle. However one major failure and his ‘savings’ could be less than half of that. Plus the ‘peace of mind’ the warranty/new vehicle provides, to many consumers. And the much lower chance of ‘down time’.

        However if he was ‘handy’ could do most or all of that on his own, took good care of the vehicle, put on lower miles that we estimated, and then detailed the interior and fixed any exterior trim, etc, then he might be able to keep it for much longer making the economics much different or allowing him to sell it for higher than the average value.

        • 0 avatar

          Also consider that at sub $10k, he might very well just do liability-only insurance. That right there is some not-insignificant monthly savings as well.

          Again, in this case I think a lightly used CRV nails the TCO metric. Chevy or Nissan, probably less so. My brother just replaced the CVT trans in his wife’s 2010 Rogue (with 186k highway miles to be fair). $2200 just for the reman unit that he installed himself. That labor is another $1500 or more with the dealer doing the work. CVT equipped vehicles, like VWs and Subarus, are strictly shorter term (sub 100k, sub 7 years) vehicles to avoid getting bit.

          • 0 avatar

            Even if he doesn’t forgo collision coverage it will still be cheaper to insure than a new vehicle.

            Also if you live in a state who’s licensing cost is tied to the value of the vehicle there can be some significant savings there too.

          • 0 avatar
            Arthur Dailey

            Good discussion here with some excellent points regarding selling prior to the ‘magical’ 100k mark (or buying much devalued after), cost of insurance, the onset of offset crashing, brand re-sale, etc.

            Worried regarding the CVT failure on a 2010, particularly knowing that your brother has his own shop. Were regular fluid changes performed on the CVT? Does your brother believe that their is an inherent weakness or flaw in their design or are newer ones much improved?

          • 0 avatar

            Fluid was closely monitored the whole time. At 186k it was still the original fill, it still looked healthy, and the CVT’s control unit’s onboard fluid life monitor gave it about 25% of life. The failure had to do with one of the 2 belt drive pulleys and the shaft it sat on. Load over time introduced a tolerance into the little keyed in bearings in the shaft, which then rapidly deteriorated and caused the pulley to seize and the belt to snap. Fluid would not have prevented this. It was definitely a design flaw. Looking at the torque load on these small little bits of metal in their keyways, small wonder they last as long as they even do. Hopefully this has been re-engineered on the new ones.

          • 0 avatar

            It really depends where you are. My FIL got rear ended in our 07 Rabbit, and it was deemed a total loss. That $3200 check was much appreciated. Where we are, that extra coverage over liability only has been ~30-60/month depending on the car- at those rates we would be foolish NOT to get full coverage. Even if you have $10K on hand that is a lot to eat if your car gets totaled.

          • 0 avatar

            Thanks, this is good info. I’m in “Chris”‘s position as well, as my current minivan lease is expiring next month. We did this on purpose, as our other kids are older, one drives, and they want nothing to do with being in a car with us anymore, hence a 7-passenger vehicle cost and garage space are no longer required.
            The two paid-for vehicles we have left are both over 100k and 10 years old, and I need wife and the lone booster-seat pilot to be safe on the highway, so I’m looking at a very similar CUV formula (wife likes to see better…yes I’ve had the “you get much more with a car” discussion, and I’m still losing).
            A lot of these target vehicles like newer CR-V’s have the CVT, so it’s good to know what living with one till failure is like.
            My existing CR-V is a 2001, and will probably start fine one day when apocalypse survivors find it in my driveway.

      • 0 avatar

        Gtenny, 2015 Terrain 2.4l with 43,000 miles, most of it ecu tuned by me which resulted in the little engine to be quite a bit quicker, just no V6. Oil changes usually a few weeks after oil life see 0% remaining with no problems. We just did 6,000 to the west coast and back and the little 4-cylinder with AWD, loaded with a pair of bicycles hanging off the back, spent minutes on end at 5,000+ rpms and 10,000+ elevation climbs sounds like brand new on cold starts. Just the tires should some wear. :)

    • 0 avatar

      Actually if you bought a 7 y/o car with 60K on it at a new car dealer it will almost certainly already have the new brakes, battery, and tires already, though if the tires were done at the dealer they may not be a trusted brand name. Plus if you are buying a car with 60K you don’t drive it out to 120k if you are looking at the value proposition. You drive it for 2 years and get rid of it at 90k. Despite the fact that cars last longer than ever there is still a stigma with having over 100K miles that means cars take a good drop in value with 101k miles on them vs 99k miles. Many new car dealers won’t put cars with 100k or more on their main lot, or keep them at all. Vehicles with over 100k are usually not financable from top tier lenders and if they are it is at a higher rate.

      As was stated even at 11 years and 120k miles the vehicle won’t be worthless but the miles from the 40-50K until 90-100k are the cheapest point to own any car as that is where the depreciation and maintenance curves intersect with both on their flattest areas.

    • 0 avatar

      Going used vs new doesn’t save you that much money. When you factor in maintenance items (tires/brakes/etc) vs depreciation you might save $1-1.5k per year vs lease. There is a reason leasing is popular.

      As for the safety the ONLY manufacturer who i trust not to build to the test is Volvo. A 2002 Volvo XC90 aced small overlap where all other manufacturers failed.

      If safety is your concern then get a used Volvo.

  • avatar
    30-mile fetch

    “the notion of designing a vehicle to pass a specific test while wholly ignoring the spirit of the exercise comes to mind. Unfair analogy?”

    No, it’s not unfair. Toyota badly botched the small overlap test for several important models when competing models of the same year passed. Ford added reinforcements to the 2015 F150 SuperCrew cabs that enabled it to pass that small overlap test but left them off of the shorter cabs that IIHS was far less likely to test.

    Chris is dead-on to be concerned about disparities in small overlap performance between a 2010 and 2014.

    • 0 avatar
      Gardiner Westbound

      Recent events confirm carmakers cheat on recalls and game vehicle testing regimes to exaggerate fuel consumption, emission and crashworthiness claims. And corporations still do death accounting, calculating if it’s cheaper to hide a problem by paying death and injury claims instead of correcting it.

      • 0 avatar
        Felix Hoenikker

        So much of standardized testing of autos is just fodder for the marketing departments. I would love to get my hands on the raw insurance data per mile driven for any model of car I’m considering buying. This would be the data that the underwriters use to set insurance rates. Alas, I don’t think this will come in the next 7 years of given the anti consumer stance of the current US congress and chief nut case.

        • 0 avatar
          JL Chamberlain

          Agree real-world information is probably more useful than the results of crash testing.

          Places to start:

          Insurance losses by make and model

          Driver death rates by model

  • avatar

    The The key is to avoid accidents, no need to worry about structure then. But that is not always possible but cars dot com has 2017 Equinox discounted heavily with a new model coming out to $17K range with a MSRP of $26K. Or about 35% off it would make one he’ll of double digit lease payment!

    • 0 avatar

      “The The key is to avoid accidents, no need to worry about structure then. ”

      Lol, classic wonderland lore. Because all accidents can be avoided, right? So you’re on a two lane bridge and some meth zombie comes on your side in a ragged out Grand Marquis. Truck behind him, so you can’t avoid him in the other lane. You’re going 55-60, so you can’t stop real quick and reverse off the bridge to avoid the collision.
      Where are you going to go? Best thing to do, aim for an angle that will lessen the severity of the hit, and yell to the top of your lungs “all hands, brace for impact!”.

      Don’t forget to imagine the bridge being 3x wider (maybe with a convienently placed off-ramp?) than what one usually encounters when making your retort.

      • 0 avatar
        Arthur Dailey

        @John, Fortunately your example is relatively rare. There are a great many other safety related issues that are more relevant.

  • avatar
    Kyree S. Williams

    Sometimes, automakers do bolster crash structures between redesigns. I know that happened to the Camry for its 2015 refresh, and also the Passat for 2016. I wouldn’t play with just swapping impact beams on an older model, though; assuming they’ll even fit, it’s usually more intensive of a change than that.

  • avatar

    2015 and newer I’d say. Didn’t IIHS retest a few small SUVs a short time ago on their passenger side and discover that manufacturers were strengthening the drivers sides to pass the test but not the passenger side?… Just found it…

  • avatar

    Considering cars like the F10 BMW 5 Series had trouble with the IIHS Small Overlap test, you can bet that most manufacturers never thought to design for this test case until IIHS introduced the actual test.

    Of course, crash test star boy Volvo has been an exception as some of their older designs were found to be very compatible with 25% frontal offset.

    Since the test did not exist in 2010, I will bet that the 2010 Equinox would not do well in such a test.

    • 0 avatar

      It’s telling that the XC90 retroactively gets a good small-overlap rating all the way back to 2003. I assume Volvo certified that they didn’t make any structural changes that would affect the test results since then.

      I also assume that if GM could say the same about the pre-2014 Equinox, they would.

  • avatar

    In my opinion, there’s no such thing as a nice used Chevy Equinox.

    It’s just my experience, but the first-generation version owned by a family member was made with totally abysmal quality. I wouldn’t want to own one over 30,000 miles, with or without a warranty.

    From the choices you list, I think I would buy … I can’t believe I am saying this … the Mitsubishi Outlander. Or maybe the Rogue. But not a used Equinox.

    • 0 avatar

      My inlaws had a 1st generation Equinox in a Pontiac Torrent suit (V6 FWD). It aged about as well as a cut apple and had to be kicked out of the fleet just over the 100,000 mile mark due to unreliability.

      Wife bought a 2016 Terrain (4 cyl) and it seems much nicer by every measure but we’ll see how well it ages. I’ve never seen such a high level of brand loyalty in one as young as her.

  • avatar

    If you’re truly interested in safety, I’d recommend a new vehicle for all the electronic safety nannies. Add in the better mpg of new cuvs, and you can easily justify getting the new model from a total cost of ownership point of view. You seem content with rather lacklustre vehicles, so finding a bargain this winter ( if you can wait) should be easy.

  • avatar

    Dear OP,

    If you have the means, just buy the new car and call it a day. If safety is paramount, then anything you buy used/older is a compromise to safety.

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