By on May 7, 2020


One of the joys of watching a previous-generation JK Jeep Wrangler barrel into an obstacle at 40 mph in the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s driver-side small overlap crash test was seeing the vehicle shed its front wheel and scoot away as if nothing had happened.

Well, in just-published tests of a randomly selected 2019 Wrangler Unlimited, the first half of the crash sequence occurs pretty must as it did before. The front driver’s side wheel shears off, with little to no intrusion into the driver’s footwell. Great for Jeep. It’s the second half of the test, however, that punts the model’s small overlap score from “good” to second-worse “marginal” ⁠— the Jeep careened onto its side.

Not once, but twice.

We’ve watched Astro vans play accordion and seen doors fly open before, but this is the first time a rollover has occurred during the IIHS’ crash testing process.

“In both the Institute’s tests, the vehicle tipped onto its passenger side after striking the barrier. The partial rollover presents an additional injury risk beyond what the standard criteria are intended to measure in small overlap frontal crash tests,” the IIHS said in its overview. “A vehicle tipping onto its side is not an acceptable outcome for a frontal crash and, as a result, the Wrangler’s overall rating was downgraded to marginal.”

The institute noted that three such tests were performed on the new Wrangler Unlimited: two by the IIHS, and another by Fiat Chrysler. Too bad about the IIHS rollovers, as the model was about to drive away with a good score.

“The dummy’s position in relation to the door frame, steering wheel, and instrument panel after the crash test indicates that the driver’s survival space was maintained well,” the IIHS noted, adding that the “dummy’s movement was well controlled” and the “driver’s space was maintained well, and risk of injuries to the dummy’s legs and feet was low.”

The test Jeep’s slab-sided nature prevented it from prematurely moving on to the roof strength test (which the Wrangler Unlimited aced, by the way).

Indeed, minus only this bizarre outcome and the marginal rear passenger head protection during a side impact, the new four-door Wrangler sailed through the other tests with ease. That includes the moderate overlap front test, in which the Wrangler Unlimited scored “good.”

Maybe we spoke too soon. Even if the Jeep hadn’t catapulted itself onto its side (an occurrence FCA hasn’t explained) or rattled the head of a rear-seat occupant, the JL Wrangler Unlimited still wouldn’t have found itself in line for the institute’s top safety award. Why? Another hurdle thrown up by the IIHS: headlights. Both the Jeep’s base halogen set and uplevel LED peepers rated “poor.”

The previous JK Wrangler Unlimited suffered a similar headlight score.

While one rollover during testing might seem like a fluke, two in succession is food for thought ⁠— and reason for FCA to worry. Even if the shifting of the vehicle one millimeter to the left or right before impact would change the outcome (no word that it would), the model is still left with this IIHS result on its official report card.

FCA claims its own test, as well as the model’s real-world experience, saw zero small overlap rollovers, telling Roadshow, “FCA has produced more than 500,000 of these vehicles. From this population, we are unaware of any incidents that correlate with the vehicle dynamic portion of the IIHS test result.”

If we weren’t curious to see how the JL-based (and significantly longer) Jeep Gladiator stacks up in this test, we sure are now.


[Images: IIHS]

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53 Comments on “Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Protected the Driver in Dreaded IIHS Small Overlap Test… but Repeated Rollovers Didn’t Help Its Case...”

  • avatar

    A lot of pictures of accidents show SUVs with shorter wheelbases on their sides. Physics I guess.

    • 0 avatar
      Secret Hi5

      But did other SUVs flip over in the IIHS test? The Willems’ article states that this was a very unusual outcome, so I take it that no other SUVs flipped.

    • 0 avatar

      Actually any CUV / SUV is prone to roll over due to the higher center of gravity. If you watch Live PD you’ve seen these things do barrel rolls when pitted even at low speeds. To get a car on its side you need a ditch, something for the wheels to dig into (like a soft shoulder) or some serious speed.

      The “I am higher up and thus safer crowd” is living in fantasy land. I swear SUVs mostly sell on this false sense of security. Given the popularity of full size pickups any normal sedan feels too low these days. Its even worse if you drive a low sports car (like me) then you spend all your driving time with your head at the typical 4WD pickups license plate level.

      • 0 avatar

        Well, there’s how this Jeep performed, and then there’s literally every other SUV.

        We both know that Volvo wouldn’t release a vehicle that flunked the test in this manner.

      • 0 avatar

        If you watch the framing around the wheel well, it gives a bit in the front up to the peak of the arch, then descends in a curve back down to floor level, creating a ramp that lifts the driver’s side of the Jeep. Note also that the passenger-side front wheel turns to steer the vehicle towards the barrier, creating more energy pushing the Jeep into the barrier and assisting in the roll.

        Definitely physics at work.

        • 0 avatar

          I surmise a redesigned tie rod end (that shears) has been moved to the top of the new parts list for 2021 Wranglers.

          • 0 avatar

            Would a tie rod that shears work off road?

          • 0 avatar

            probably? idk. My experience is that tie rods and ends typically bend before they break. They dont really shear (ive never seen one do that). Maybe… Jeep engineers could engineer a tie rod end (or knuckle) that sheers under loads similar to what the jeep experiences in the video above. That way the passenger front tire will not steer towards the impact side after the impact. Idk. Just a thought.

      • 0 avatar

        Single vehicle roll overs are almost always small to midsized SUV’s. The next group are modified brodozers.

      • 0 avatar

        I get that same feeling JM. Regular pickups could roll right over me, let alone the dumb brodozers…it is kind of scary being next to them…

  • avatar

    This is a case where accomplishing the goal appears to have caused the vehicle to fail the test. The goal being a survivable occupant space in the most common head-on collisions, the test failing to completely replicate that real-world scenario.

    If you watch from the rear 3/4 view the clean shearing of the front wheel reduces crash energy very little. The main vehicle tub where the floorpan meets the A-pillar smacks the rigid barrier by only a couple inches, yet as the article admits there appears to be very little foot and leg intrusion as the structural area behind the wheel doesn’t deform much even as the visible body panel flies outward. As the vehicle starts to tip you can see this area is angled downward toward the rear of the vehicle which likely produces a naturally comfortable foot angle for an operator seated fairly upright. This angle and its rigidity act as a ramp riding over the rounded edge of the rigid barrier to tip the vehicle over.

    In the real world almost any barrier you impact in such a way would be less rigid and would be much less likely to ramp the Jeep into a roll. The obstruction’s relative deformability would allow the Jeep to slide over/along without tipping.

    This Jeep has a fairly long wheelbase, is wider than previous Jeeps, and due to weight-reduction efforts probably has a better CG height placing all parameters inline with competitive segment vehicles. This tipover in testing is due to an unusually small energy absorption from the front quarter impact (wheel hung outward from the body) combined with an unusually rigid lower occupant structure that hits the barrier even less than most vehicles in this particular test.

  • avatar

    Years ago driving through Austin I was passed by a short bed regular cab F-150 with a serious body lift, shod with those used-to-be ubiquitous “monster mudders” oversized tires. It was weaving through traffic in a serious hurry to be first to the scene of the accident, which occurred about 30 seconds ahead of me, and was how long it took me to find it lying on its side in the middle of the roadway. I drove by without slowing down and without an ounce of compassion because this is how morons prefer to learn new things.

    • 0 avatar


      You are so mean. You are not nice. (what i m suposed to say)

      You are so right on. Good to know i m not the only ols skool guy.

      • 0 avatar

        I’m mean too.

        When I witness the possibility of this scenario unfolding, if I remember to do it then I’ll quick start my cell phone camera and have it at the ready.

    • 0 avatar

      You could have at least had the decency to stop and ask the driver and ask if they needed a hand? Then smirk and tell them “I bet you do” as you get back in and drive off.

      We live in such a savage world these days…

    • 0 avatar
      Art Vandelay

      Im not a bro dozer fan, but to enjoy someone’s suffering kind of makes you A-holes of the worst sort.

      I guess if someone buys a Jeep now and replicates this, you’ll feel the same…or is your ire and smugness reserved for those that modify their vehicles in manners you don’t agree with. Let me guess, also motorcycle riders and members of the other political party.

      Frankly I think this attitude sums up most of what is wrong with this country.

      • 0 avatar

        Yea, I don’t agree with the glibness (happiness?) over someone possibly dying in a auto wreck just because I don’t like their vehicle.

        • 0 avatar

          It’s not a matter of liking or disliking their vehicle type for me, it’s when their driving style exceeds their skill. I think the same thing about helmetless daredevils piloting their crotch rockets rapidly through traffic. I cheer when the perps on COPS crash spectacularly.

          It’s kinda mean but I’ve realized that I can’t change the world, at least not when it comes to Darwin candidates.


      • 0 avatar

        Agreed, wishing ill on someone who you don’t approve of is a bad, bad look.

        • 0 avatar

          I think they’re mostly glad it happened that way before the guy had a chance to harm others. If you’re going to modify your vehicle in such a way that makes it extremely dangerous to other drivers, you should at least operate it in a safe, conservative manner.

          I’d probably go with a Nelson Ha-Ha as I drove by.

  • avatar

    Pretty impressive how well the driver is protected.

    • 0 avatar

      Sure, on the first impact. What about the flipping onto its side afterwards? IIHS say they had no criteria to evaluate that, because it hadn’t happened before and probably wasn’t instrumented on that axis. The right arm flailing about during the flip doesn’t look great.

      • 0 avatar

        Really? The arm? This is a devastating impact. You don’t expect to be completely unaffected. How should the car have protected that arm? Arm harness?

        • 0 avatar
          Art Vandelay

          Most protect the arm by keeping the vehicle wheels down. This prevents the arm from potentially being crushed by the weight of the vehicle resting on it. Hence why something like this is an issue.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    The Wrangler won’t lose a single sale because of this.

    Offset crashes and rollovers happen to other people.

  • avatar

    My daughter would love to be driving one of these. Nope.

    Reported at 30% confidence level:
    [First, note that the *2015* Wrangler gets the driver-side wheels in the air but lands back on its feet (in the one video I saw).]
    – The way that ‘existing’ platforms are typically modified for the small-overlap frontal crash test is by adding structural reinforcements/stiffeners (steel) to the body structure.
    – This seems to have been done very well – there is very little deformation of the “passenger cell”.
    – But then this stiffer structure rides up the barrier more than before and we land on our side.

    [Everything that follows in this paragraph is off the record, not endorsed and will be denied:
    There is a legend in automotive circles that at certain times in the past, it has been whispered by knowledgeable insiders (perhaps to their spouses), that ‘if you are headed for a narrow offset collision, steer toward the object or other vehicle, for this will give more of the crash structure in your vehicle a chance to work for you in dissipating the energy of the collision.’ It’s a legend – you didn’t hear it from me.]

    People are nuts, they don’t maintain their vehicles, and you don’t know what’s currently on their mind besides driving. So…. “Let’s be careful out there.”

    • 0 avatar

      RE: Legend: I was told this same thing by an engineer in restraint/seating way back when I was doing DE events. It’s anecdote I know, but that flashed through my mind once when realizing I wasn’t going to make a corner; I had to choose between trying to be a hero, going over an embankment, into a crowd of people, or head-on into a tree. I chose the later, the car’s structure and my restraints worked as designed, and I walked. The car was cut up for scrap. Also knew of a competitor who chose to be the hero, go into a corner too hot, hit a tree sideways, and went home in a bag. So, I have tended to believe what the engineer told me: if you’re going to hit something, try to hit dead square head on if you can. Not very scientific but object lessons speak loudly.

  • avatar

    Another reason to abandon gas powered vehicles and switch to BEVs with low center of gravity. Please spread the gospel.

    • 0 avatar

      EV’s tend to break in half and burst into flames during a catastrophic collision. Or burn when they run over something sharp in the road. Or while they’re charging. Or just sitting there doing nothing. You never know.

      • 0 avatar


        • 0 avatar

          28 Cars
          Please watch
          Michael Moore’s movie, Planet of the Humans.

          BEVs are NOT the panacea. PERIOD

          • 0 avatar

            Michael Moore is from Flint, MI. Might be another Tesla hater. Are sure what motivates him?

          • 0 avatar
            Art Vandelay

            @Inside Looking Out, Have you seen Roger and Me (Had to watch it in college and read “Rivethead”)? I am not really a fan of Michael Moore, but good lord, he is about as far away from being a shill for the big 3 as one can get, at least based on his past work so barring some sort of massive change of heart or mental break…no, he is not motivated by wanting to protect the traditional automakers.

            I do find it interesting…When Michael Moore is making flicks like Bowling for Columbine or Fahrenheit 9/11, or telling everyone how much better Cuba’s medical care is than ours his work is lauded and “thought provoking”, but let him step out of line and man people turn.

            If Michael Moore hates Tesla, it is because Elon Musk is a capitalist. Again, he has no love for the traditional auto industry.

    • 0 avatar

      The Wrangler is an offroad vehicle. An electric offroad vehicle would still have a high center of gravity. And please don’t confuse the Tesla X as an offroad vehicle. FYI the offroad community is looking forward to electric powered vehicle, all that torque off idle will be awesome.

  • avatar
    Art Vandelay

    “We like the Jeep, so we will rationalize how it rolls over like literally no other vehicle in the history of the test…but we’re this a BMW crossover or an EcoSport we’d have 300+ comments bashing it”

    – The Best and Brightest

    Also it’s bad enough the standard headlights suck, though that seems to be normal, but how do you have the headlights you charge more for also suck.

  • avatar

    So back when I had a 02 Jeep Wrangler (TJ) my wife would want to take it to work when it snowed. Unless there was a lot of snow I wouldn’t let her, I’d force her to take her car. I explained to her that you won’t get stuck in the Jeep but you might die. In your car you might lose the ability to move but cal me and I can get you unstuck. She never understood it. TJ was much harder to control then these new 4door ones.

    To this crash test result I think the problem is that it is really only only hitting a small portion of the vehicle. The test is designed to hit the outer third of the car. But in the Wrangler a lot of that outer third is none structural, mostly fender that is designed to bolt off for bigger tires offroad, If you look at where the yellow line on the car is there is nothing structural there. Would be like the equivalent of hitting outer 10% of another car.

  • avatar

    This confirms my fears about the Wrangler and its removable doors. The odds of tipping over increase as a vehicle’s center of gravity gets higher, so any SUV will tend to rollover sooner than a 4-door sedan. My concerns grow exponentially in a situation with no doors and/or no roof. I am amazed at the number of Wranglers parked in the high school parking lots around me.

    Inexperienced driver + removable doors + soft top + high center of gravity = disaster in my book.

  • avatar

    In an ideal world, the IIHS crash tests would correlate to real-world crash perforamnce. They have done some good. When they don’t correlate, though, vehicles are designed to simply pass a test and become incrementally heavier and more expensive as a result.
    The whole small overlap test in itself created huge headaches and redesigns for everyone selling cars here. Now this will appear as a major stain on the safety record for the Wrangler, even if (I said IF) it does not represent any true lack of safety in the real world.

  • avatar

    I would be curious about the real world stats here. According to a recent autoblog look at the NHTSA FARS records, the Wrangler is not on the list of 15 most dangerous vehicles. Most of them are either small or high performance, so certainly other factors at work in the fatality rate.
    I wish I had the time and ability to really dig into the NHTSA data. However I suspect that if you don’t like the Wrangler, this test proves you are right, and if you do like the Wrangler, this test in inconclusive.

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