Small Pickups More Popular, Less Safe

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As gas prices top $4 a gallon, some consumers have turned to compact and midsize pickups rather than full-size models that devour gas.

“Unfortunately, they won’t find any that afford state-of-the-art crash protection,” Adrian Lund, president of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, said in releasing results of the agency’s first side-impact crash tests on small trucks.

Side impacts are the second most common type of fatal crash, killing almost 9,000 people in 2006. Small trucks usually don’t get the latest safety systems standard because most are long in the tooth and aging in terms of underlying technology, as attention is instead focused on next-generation full-size models that account for the most profit for automakers. Ford, for example, may only offer the Ranger for a couple more years. That model hasn’t been significantly altered in more than a decade.

“Until they improve, most small pickups aren’t good choices for people looking for safe transportation,” Lund said.

The Toyota Tacoma was the only small truck to earn the agency’s highest rating, Good, in side tests. The Dodge Dakota, Nissan Frontier and Ford Ranger were rated Marginal, while the Chevy Colorado earned the lowest rating, Poor.

IIHS, which represents insurance companies, said side airbags were available only as an extra cost option on all small trucks but the Ranger, which doesn’t even offer them. Stability control, which helps prevent accidents, is optional on the Tacoma and Frontier but not available on the other trucks.

“You shouldn’t buy a vehicle without side airbags and stability control, and you shouldn’t have to select safety from the option list,” Lund said.

Of the five small trucks, the Tacoma is doing best, with sales of 84,068 units in the first six months of this year. Though down from 92,462 units in the same period a year ago, the Tacoma outsold the full-size Toyota Tundra by 8,000 units in the first half of this year.

While Chevy Colorado sales were down 9,000 units in that same period, the full-size Silverado was off 80,000 units. The old timer in the group, the Ranger was down only 1,000 units in the first half of the year, while the full-size F-Series tumbled by more than 80,000 units, forfeiting its rank as the top-selling vehicle in the industry to the compact Honda Civic in May and Toyota’s Corolla/Matrix duo in June. 

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