By KEN THOMAS
WASHINGTON - A minor fender-bender in a sport utility vehicle can lead to expensive repairs, the insurance industry has found in new crash tests.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety estimated Thursday that repairing damages to SUVs - and passenger cars involved in low-speed crashes with SUVs - could cost from about $3,000 for two vehicles to nearly $10,000. The tests were conducted at 10 miles per hour and meant to simulate crashes in bumper-to-bumper traffic involving pairs of small cars and small SUVs from the same automaker.
A Toyota Corolla compact striking the rear of a Toyota RAV4 small SUV incurred more than $6,000 in damages to the RAV4 and nearly $4,000 in repairs for the Corolla. A Nissan Rogue hitting a compact Nissan Sentra led to more than $2,800 in damages for the Rogue and more than $4,500 in repairs for the Sentra.
In a crash scenario involving a Ford Focus hitting the back of a Ford Escape SUV, the Focus needed more than $5,200 in repairs, while the Escape had more than $2,200 in damages.
On the less expensive end, a Hyundai Tucson SUV needed $850 in work after hitting a Kia Forte. The simulated crash of a Honda CR-V SUV into a Honda Civic caused nearly $3,000 in total damages for the two vehicles.
SUVs tend to ride higher off the ground compared with passenger cars, so cars can sustain damage to hoods, headlights, engine cooling systems and fenders in low-speed crashes with SUVs. Institute staff said the damages could be minimized by changes to federal regulations.
The government requires all cars to have bumpers that protect an area 16 to 20 inches from the ground. The bumper rules do not apply to SUVs, pickup trucks or minivans, making SUV bumpers a few inches higher than those on cars.
"SUVs and cars share the road. The problem is they don't share the same bumper rules, and consumers end up paying the price," said Joe Nolan, the institute's chief administration officer.
The institute petitioned the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in July 2009 to have the bumper standards apply to all vehicles, including SUVs and trucks. The government has said that SUVs and trucks need more ground clearance for off-road driving and using loading ramps.
NHTSA said it would announce its decision on the petition once it completed a review. Automakers have opposed such changes, contending they wouldn't improve safety and would reduce vehicles' versatility.
Responding to the crash tests, Nissan said in a statement that the Rogue and Sentra "perform competitively in terms of cost of repair." The automaker said it designs its vehicles "to provide a high level of performance in a wide range of real-world crashes, including rear-impact collisions."
Ford said in a statement that it was "committed to building exciting, safe and affordable vehicles, including a comprehensive approach to reducing repair and insurance costs."
Toyota's bumpers are "only part of a complex passive safety system designed to diffuse and absorb energy and to help protect vehicle occupants," the automaker said in a statement. "IIHS' mismatched bumper height simulation is a repair cost observation, not a safety issue."