WASHINGTON - Poor bumper design on compact pickups can lead to thousands of dollars in repairs after even a minor crash, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety says.
The institute, the insurance industry's research arm, said in a study issued last week that it tallied damages as high as $4,361 after conducting 5-mph crash tests on five small pickups.
Three vehicles incurred damages of $1,100 from backing into a pole at 5 mph, it said.
'People may think pickup trucks are tough, but they quickly find out this isn't true when they bump into something at a slow speed,' said Adrian Lund, senior vice president of the institute.
The problem is one of design, not the quality of parts.
Because pickup bumpers usually are made of rigid bars attached directly to vehicle frames, Lund said, they tend to transmit crash energy into the bodies instead of absorbing it. In the absence of energy-absorbing capability, he said, damage is passed through to fenders, grilles, hoods, tailgates and other parts.
In the cases of the Toyota Tacoma and Dodge Dakota Sport, the cabs and cargo beds slammed together, causing more damage, the institute said. Also tested were the Chevrolet S10, the Ford Ranger and the Nissan Frontier.
The institute called the S10 'the best of a bad lot.'
The institute conducts four tests: front impact into a flat barrier, rear into a flat barrier, front into an angled barrier, and rear into a pole. At $4,361, the Tacoma had the highest estimated total repair costs from all four tests.
Trucks are not subject to the federal standard for car bumpers, which are supposed to prevent damage in 2.5-mph crashes.
Sam Butto, a spokesman for Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc., said he did not know if Toyota will re-evaluate the Tacoma design because of the test results. But if the federal government imposed tougher standards for trucks, he said, the company would meet them.