Misaligned bumpers cause thousands of dollars worth of damage, even at only 10 mph (photo courtesy of IIHS)

Misaligned bumpers cause thousands of dollars worth of damage, even at only 10 mph (photo courtesy of IIHS)

Ever been in a car and felt like you were looking up at an SUV or truck’s bumper, it was so high? Those sky-high bumpers could cost you big money in an accident. This month, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety released results of a series of crash tests showing what happens when SUVs and cars from the same manufacturer collide in a 10 mph rear-end crash.

The results weren’t good for either vehicle type>. As you can see in the photo, when the cars rear-ended the SUVs, their front bumpers tended to dive under the SUV bumpers, damaging the cars’ front bodywork, cooling systems and lights, rather than bouncing harmlessly off the SUVs’ bumpers. When the SUVs rear-ended the cars, their bumpers tended to push up and over the car bumpers, damaging the SUVs’ radiators and the cars’ bodies.

The most expensive SUV-to-car collision was between a Nissan Rogue and a Nissan Sentra. The Sentra sustained $4,4560 worth of damage, suffering a crumpled bumper cover, trunk lid and rear body. The Rogue, on the other hand, had $2,884 worth of damage, including a busted radiator that made it undriveable, for a grand total of $7,444 between the two vehicles.

The Toyota Corolla and RAV4 had the worst car-to-SUV crash, with $9,867 worth of damage:

“The RAV4’s so-called bumper is really just a stamped piece of sheet metal supporting the bumper cover,” says Joe Nolan, IIHS chief administrative officer. “So instead of engaging a strong bumper, the striking Corolla hit the spare tire mounted on the RAV4’s tailgate. The spare isn’t designed to absorb crash energy, so it damaged the Corolla’s hood, grille, headlights, air conditioner, and radiator support and crushed the RAV4’s tailgate and rear body panels.”

Ouch. For the complete list of how the SUV-car pairs did in the crash testing, check out the IIHS’ press release.

So why are SUVs and light trucks, which made up 51.5 percent of vehicles sold between 1998 and 2008, according to NADA, allowed to have bumpers that don’t line up with cars? The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, or NHTSA, has resisted calls from the IIHS and other advocates to change the requirements, because they say lowering SUVs’ bumpers would hurt the vehicles’ ground clearance, a key factor in determining a truck or SUV’s off-road abilities.

That may be true, but you can’t look at a Nissan Rogue and tell me it’s going to get significant off-road use — it’s basically a more upright version of the Nissan Sentra. Fact is, crossovers have higher bumpers for styling reasons, not because they need to be able to clear a boulder without scraping a bumper.

It may be time to lump the crossover trucks and SUVs in with the cars, acknowledging the reality they’re not meant to be used off-road, and leave the work trucks and off-roading SUVs with real truck chassis in the higher bumper category. I know it might make crossovers not look quite as SUV-like if they have to lower their bumper a few inches, but that seems like a small price to pay to avoid the routine waste of thousands of dollars.

After all, if those crossovers want to be driven primarily on-road, they’re going to have to learn to play nice with cars, and not cause nearly $10,000 worth of damage in a 10 mph accident.

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