New IIHS Testing Finds Big Repair Bills with Small Car Bumpers

By Editors on June 15, 2009 12:17 PM

The latest round of low-speed crash testing by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety shows that even modest impacts to the bumper systems of small cars can result in relatively steep fix-it costs. The IIHS recently subjected seven mini- and microcars to its four-test abuse regimen which includes both direct front- and rear-bumper fixed-barrier strikes at six mph as well as similar corner hits at three mph. As with all vehicles, the ratings are generated using a new protocol based on repair costs that are averaged and weighted to reflect real-world damage patterns. To earn a "Good" rating, that critical figure must be less than $500. Sustaining bumper damage of less than $1,000 merits an "Acceptable" mark; from there to $1,500 is "Unacceptable" and anything above that point falls into the "Poor" category. Of the seven cars tested, only one, the smart fortwo, ended up with an Acceptable rating based on its $889 repair-index estimate. Next best was the Chevrolet Aveo, with a $1,155 weighted average that netted a Marginal mark. The remaining five -- Mini Cooper ($1,637), Toyota Yaris ($1,951), Honda Fit ($1,960), Hyundai Accent ($2,123) and the Kia Rio ($2,705) all earned Poor ratings. To date, the IIHS has performed similar low-speed bumper tests on 54 other vehicles, and of the 61 total, 43 rated "Poor" and only 15 others made attained "Marginal" marks. So for just three, the smart fortwo, Ford Focus and Scion xB have received "Acceptable" grades.

Senior VP Joe Nolan explained how and why the non-profit IIHS set the criteria for its tests at this level. "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. 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."

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