Small Pickup Trucks Lag in IIHS Crash and Roof Crush Tests


Only one of five small pickup trucks – the Nissan Frontier — tested for rollover protection received a good rating from the by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the group reported late Wednesday. However, even the Frontier (also sold as the Suzuki Equator) fell short of achieving the IIHS’ “Top Safety Pick” recognition.

Worst of all, though, was the failure of the Dodger Dakota’s side-curtain airbags to deploy in the pickup’s side-impact test.

“In our tests, side airbags have proven to be very reliable, so this is a surprise,” said IIHS spokesman Russ Rader.

The Dodge Dakota's side impact airbags failed to deploy in the IIHS test.

The IIHS says that Chrysler engineers told the Institute that they have identified the problem – a computer program algorithm that calculates when to fire the airbags – and are working on a remedy. The Institute will retest the Dakota after that software is repaired.

“The Dakota is the only 2010 small pickup the Institute tested that has optional rather than standard side airbags,” IIHS senior vice president David Zuby said in a statement. “Most of the auto industry pledged to get standard side airbags in every new passenger vehicle by now.

“Chrysler is the only manufacturer we know of that isn’t living up to the spirit of the 2003 agreement.”

In that agreement, 15 automakers agreed on rules to reduce the risks in frontal and side crashes involving larger and heavier sport utility vehicles and pickup trucks. According to the IIHS, “the idea was to make safety improvements like installing side airbags in all passenger vehicles more quickly than would have been the case with a government regulation.”

Rader noted that “one overall takeaway is that small pickups generally do not do as well in safety tests as other vehicle groups.”

But, he added, “We expect that to change as new models are designed.”

He said that it is not unusual for vehicles to fail to achieve a “good” rating in the rollover tests, a new part of IIHS ratings.

For example, among micro and mini cars, only one of six vehicles achieved a “good” rating. Among midsize cars, only 11 of 23 received “good” scores. Among small SUVs, only five of 14 got the “good” rating.

Nonetheless, “as a group, small pickups aren’t performing as well as small cars or small SUVs in all of the Institute’s safety tests,” Zuby said. “None of the ones we tested is a top-notch performer across the board.”

The Nissan Frontier after the IIHS performed its new roof crush test. It performed best among all small trucks.

The Frontier/Equator came close, but was rated only as “acceptable” for protection against occupant neck injuries in a rear crash. To be a top safety pick, a vehicle has to earn “good” scores in front, side, rear and rollover tests, and has to be equipped with electronic stability control.

In the Institute’s roof strength test, a metal plate is pushed against one corner of the roof at a constant speed. To earn a “good” rating, the roof must withstand a force four times the vehicle’s weight before reaching five inches of crush. A scale of strength-to-weight determines the acceptable, marginal and poor ratings.

The Frontier/Equator’s roof withstood 4.11 times vehicle weight. At 3.32, the Ford Ranger was rated “acceptable.” The Dodge Dakota (3.23), Toyota Tacoma (3.08) and Chevrolet Colorado/GMC Canyon were rated “marginal.”

The IIHS also conducted side-impact tests and the Colorado/Canyon was rated “poor” in that category.

The Institute noted that while the Colorado/Canyon has standard side-curtain airbags, it “lacks additional airbags designed to protect a driver’s torso. The Colorado’s poor structure, along with poor protection for the driver dummy’s chest and pelvis, contributed to its poor rating overall. Plus the dummy’s head came close to moving around the curtain airbags during the impact by the intruding barrier.”

In fact, Zuby said, “a slightly different crash configuration could have resulted in a direct hit from the barrier on the dummy’s head.”

In the side-impact tests, the Frontier/Equator, Ranger and Tacoma were rated “good.”


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