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Bumpers Found Lacking

A low-speed crash in a midsize car can result in a high repair bill.

As The Early Show consumer correspondent Susan Koeppen reported Thursday, crash tests by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) found most bumpers on midsize cars don't do much to prevent damage in crashes at six miles-per-hour. That's the equivalent of everyday fender benders common in commuter traffic and parking lots.

The institute tested the bumpers of 17 midsize cars. The tests were done at 6 miles per hour on the front and rear bumpers and 3 miles per hour on the corners — about the speed of a toddler walking.

Only three of the 17 cars tested had damage of $1,500 or less after each of four bumper tests. They were the Mitsubishi Galant, Toyota Camry and Mazda 6. Other cars had more than $4,500 damage in just one test. Two cars, the Volkswagen Jetta and Nissan Maxima, had damage totaling more than $9,000.

IIHS President Adrian Lund says the tests were designed to measure how well bumpers perform in minimizing damage to headlights, hoods, fenders and other parts that are expensive to repair.

He says they found most "bumpers aren't up to the job."

Lund told Koeppen, "The fact is there is a lot of unnecessary damage because cars have lousy bumpers. … The problem with the bumpers on these vehicles is that although it looks like they may have big bumpers when you look at the covers, the fact is underneath there, the reinforcement bars that have to protect against the damage if you strike another vehicle just aren't very big. There's a lot of empty space under (bumper covers)."

Lund added that many bumpers aren't tall enough to take the hit in crashes between cars and SUVs or pickups. Some of the most costly damage occurs when bumpers slide under or over each other.

"If the bumper beams don't match up if your bumper beam doesn't hit the bumper of the vehicle in front of you," Lund explained to Koeppen, "then these bumpers can pass by each other and they crash into really soft and expensive bit of the car, things like grills and head lamps, even hoods, radio components, air conditioning components. There's a lot of expensive damage."

Federal bumper standards used to be tougher than they are now, Koeppen pointed out. Bumpers were required to resist damage in impacts up to 5 miles per hour, but the rules were loosened in 1982.

To demonstrate how bumpers have changed, the institute put a 1981 Ford Escort through the new tests. The results, Koeppen observed, were dramatic. The Escort suffered less than $500 in total damage.

The bottom line? Damage to consumer bottom lines, said Lund: "Consumers benefit if they have better bumpers. And we're showing consumers which cars offer them that. And we hope they'll bring the pressure on the auto makers to get better bumpers on all cars."

To see the complete report, click here.