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July 2009 Trail Head - Jeep Crash Test Ratings

Posted in Features on July 1, 2009
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For years I've wondered how the Jeeps and trucks I drive received such poor crash ratings from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). I mean, how is it even possible for a 5,000-pound -ton fullsize truck with a real frame and factory 33-inch tires to get a lower crash rating than a 1,800-pound tin can on 22-inch shopping cart wheels? That's like telling me a .22 caliber pea shooter has more punch than a .50 caliber rifle! Then it dawned on me that the people performing the test must have no clue what they are doing. They've thrown reality, simple physics and Newton's Laws of Motion right out the window. Even a 5-year-old who is somewhat proficient at rock-paper-scissors can tell you that a larger stone will make a bigger splash than a small pebble when thrown in a pond. But what's worse is that average America has no idea what this institution is feeding them. Ultimately, I don't care how many seat belts or airbags you have in a Smart car, if it gets crushed by a -ton truck or even a Wrangler, it's not gonna be a pretty sight.

I'm really not sure how the IIHS comes up with the parameters for the test. Do testers hit the vehicle with a similar mass? If that's the case it's even more unrealistic. Statistically, a pickup truck is safer for many reasons. In most states the roads are filled with small and mid-sized cars. There are simply fewer large pickup trucks on the road than cars, so regardless of what you are driving you are less likely to be hit by a pickup truck than hit with a car. And if you are the one in the larger truck it would seem to me that you would be safer since the probability of being hit by a smaller, lighter car is greater than that of being hit by another pickup of equal weight. Not to mention the bumpers of most small cars barely come up to the rocker guard on my -ton truck or Jeep. I don't know about you, but that fact alone seems a heck of a lot safer to me than getting hit in the mid- or upper-door as would be the case with a car-on-car or truck-on-car collision. However, if you've seen the equipment used for these crash scenarios you quickly realize it's nothing like what you would typically encounter in reality. On a Wrangler for example, the impact equipment has a panel (bumper) that extends from the ground to the just under the side window (they say it's modeled like a Ford pickup frontend). Anyway, that's nearly 4 feet off the ground! The bumper and hood of a typical car that might hit you comes in at about half that height.

Interestingly the somewhat-vague Good, Acceptable, Marginal, and Poor IIHS crash test ratings fail to elaborate on the G forces felt inside of the vehicle when it gets hit. A small, lighter car can easily get knocked around like a pinball which creates G-forces that can break bones or even kill occupants. A large heavy truck is less likely to get knocked around by a smaller vehicle, so the forces felt inside are significantly less dangerous.

As long as we're tossing physics out the window I have a request. I will personally volunteer for crash dummy testing to set the record straight. Let's seat-belt the IIHS testers into a herd of Smart cars, or any newer IIHS-recommended small car stuffed to the gills with every optional air bag and safety wing-ding, and then I'll ram them at 50-mph in a 13,000-pound military truck with no safety equipment to speak of except for a 1960s-era lap belt. We'll see who walks away.--John Cappa

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