IIHS Ranks Adds Bumper Ratings; Tests Mini and Microcar Bumpers
June 16, 2009

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has added bumper ratings to the areas in which it tests and has found that most of the mini and microcars it has tested have ranked low in this area. The only one that has ranked acceptable is the Smart Fortwo.

The Smart Fortwo is the only mini car that has achieved a bumper rating of acceptable from the IIHS.

The Institute evaluated results according to a new ratings system for low-speed tests that represents the damage insurance claims centers assess daily on low-speed crashes. The worst performer was the Kia Rio with $9,380 total damage in the four tests, two full-width and two corner impacts, to earn a poor rating. The Rio's repair bill was worse than those of most other small and midsize cars and minivans the Institute has tested. The Rio minicar's damages totaled $3,700 damage (about 30 percent of its purchase price) in the full-front test alone. The Toyota Yaris, Honda Fit, Hyundai Accent, and Mini Cooper also earn poor ratings for bumper performance (see table below).

The Smart Fortwo rated best overall, with $3,281 total damage in four tests. IIHS attributes the relatively low costs to fix the Fortwo to the fact that its pre-painted plastic body panels are dent-resistant, inexpensive, and easy to replace. The Chevrolet Aveo, a minicar, rated next best, with $4,490 total damage.

"You should be able to drive your car home after a low-speed crash, but too often vehicles are sidelined by only minor impacts," says IIHS senior vice president Joe Nolan. "Damage to sheet metal, air-conditioning condensers, and safety equipment like headlights should never happen when your car is bumped at just 3 to 6 miles an hour. Bad bumpers add up to one big headache for consumers."

The new bumper test results are based on repair costs averaged and weighted to reflect real-world damage patterns. These averaged and weighted repair costs determine each vehicle's overall rating of good, acceptable, marginal or poor in four bumper tests representing full-width and corner crashes at low speeds. Weighted average repairs must be less than $500 for a good rating, less than $1,000 for acceptable, and less than $1,500 for marginal. Repairs of $1,500 or more earn bumpers a poor rating.

"Bumpers can be designed so there's no damage in these low-speed impacts. At a minimum, repairs should cost less than the typical insurance deductible for a collision, which is $500," Nolan explains. "This is why we set the benchmark for a good rating at less than $500. Damage at this level may be only cosmetic, so consumers may choose not to bother with repairs. Likewise, $1,000 is about the cost of a new bumper cover, reinforcement bar, and paint, while $1,500 includes replacing vehicle parts like grilles and headlights. When you reach $1,000 the bumper isn't doing its job, and anything $1,500 or higher is egregious."

No vehicle can earn a good or even an acceptable rating in the Institute's bumper tests if it's unsafe to drive afterward or can't be driven at all. Inoperable headlights or taillights, severely buckled hoods, or a compromised engine cooling system would prevent any vehicle from achieving the top two ratings. For instance, the Accent's hood buckled and its radiator hose kinked in the full-front test.

Besides this group of minicars and a microcar, the Institute has tested 54 other vehicles under the new ratings protocol. The Smart Fortwo joins the Ford Focus and Scion xB as the only cars to earn acceptable ratings. The Aveo is 1 of 15 to rate marginal. Of the 61 cars the Institute has tested so far, 43 rate poor.

Bumper Performance in Low-Speed Crash Tests: Vehicle Repair Costs

Rating Front Full Front Corner Rear Full Rear Corner Weighted Average
Smart Fortwo Acceptable $1,480 $663 $631 $507 $899
Chevrolet Aveo Marginal $1,071 $1,437 $1,370 $612 $1,155
Mini Cooper Poor $2,291 $2,637 $929 $743 $1,637
Toyota Yaris Poor $1,688 $1,167 $3,345 $474 $1,951
Honda Fit Poor $1,124 $1,216 $3,648 $999 $1,960
Hyundai Accent Poor $3,476 $839 $2,057 $831 $2,123
Kia Rio Poor $3,701 $1,758 $3,148 $773 $2,705

Source: IIHS

Need more info and analysis about the issues?
CLICK HERE to subscribe to AGRR magazine.