Economy cars, Prius score poorly in IIHS crash tests
In a series of crash tests, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety recently assessed how well the bumpers of 20 small car models would protect the vehicles from damage in low-speed collisions. The worst performers are the Hyundai Elantra, Toyota Prius, and Volkswagen Rabbit, each sustaining about $4,000 damage or more in a single test. The Ford Focus performed the best, with about one-third that amount of damage in its worst test.
Underride is a frequent cause of significant damage in the tests, just like in real-world crashes. For example, the front bumpers of the Rabbit and Honda Civic underrode the barrier in the front full-width test resulting in damage to their grilles, hoods, fenders, and air-conditioning condensers. Similarly, the Prius sustained nearly $4,000 damage in the rear full-width test because its bumper is mounted too low to be in position to protect the vehicle's tailgate, rear body panel, and taillights.
In the front corner test of the right side of the Prius, damage was much less, about $1,200, involving the fender and headlight. But had the test been conducted on the left side, the barrier would have crushed a coolant tank which costs more than $1,000 to replace, not including labor.
A taillight costs $205 to replace on the Prius compared with just $65 on the Focus.
To illustrate how small changes to bumper design can make a significant difference in repair costs, the Institute worked with Tech-Cor, the research division of Allstate Insurance, to modify the front bumper of the Prius. The reinforcement bar and foam absorber were extended another 10 inches on the passenger side under the headlight. When the Institute tested the Prius again, the headlight and fender were undamaged and the repair cost dropped from $1,200 to $254.
"There's plenty of room under the bumper covers of most cars to make this simple change," says Nolan.