December 12, 2003

Bumpers on F-150, Freestar costly to repair after 5 mph crash tests

Arlington, Virginia – In low-speed crash tests conducted recently by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), the Ford F-150 pickup and Freestar minivan, both new for 2004, exhibited higher repair costs than previous models, reported the IIHS.

The F-150 sustained an average of U.S.$1,478 damage in each of the Institute’s four tests. The Freestar sustained an average of about U.S.$703 damage. That compares to an average of U.S.$1,368 for the 2001 Ford F-150 and an average of U.S.$523 for the 1999 Ford Windstar in previous IIHS tests.

The Institute’s series of four bumper tests includes front- and rear-into-flat-barrier plus front-into-angle-barrier and rear-into-pole impacts. The tests assess how well bumpers can prevent damage in 5 mph collisions simulating the fender benders that are common in commuter traffic and parking lots. A good bumper system should absorb the energy of these minor impacts and protect expensive body panels, headlamp systems, and other components from damage, said the IIHS.

“The F-150 is all new, but its bumpers are just as flimsy as before and even a little worse,” said Adrian Lund, the Institute’s chief operating officer. “The highest damage total was in the rear-into-pole test. The whole bumper was pushed downward, and the tailgate was crushed. In addition, the left and right ends of the bumper were driven into the rear fenders.”

A big downside for the F-150 is that the bumper needed to be replaced after each test. “In both of the frontal tests, most of the damage total was due to replacing the entire bumper assembly, which costs almost $800,” Lund points out.

One reason pickups and minivans generally perform poorly in the Institute’s bumper tests is that they aren’t subject to any requirements to prevent damage in low-speed impacts, said Lund. Automobile bumpers have to meet federal standards in 2.5 mph impacts, so cars typically do better in low-speed crash tests.

The Ford Windstar, the predecessor to the Freestar, was rated acceptable for bumper performance when the Institute tested a 1999 model. Average damage for this model was about $500 per test, with no damage in the rear-into-flat-barrier impact. In contrast, the new Freestar drops to a marginal rating because its bumpers allowed substantially more damage in two of the four tests. In the front-into-angle-barrier test, there was more than U.S.$1,200 damage because the bumper assembly had to be replaced, and there was damage to the frame.

“Ford could have used this opportunity to design better bumpers,” Lund concludes. “A bumper should be tough enough to prevent major damage in a minor collision at a fast walking speed.”

In response to the IIHS test results, Ford countered that the crash test results are a cost issue not a safety issue. A statement issued by the company said, “Ford Motor Company designs all of its vehicle bumper systems to perform well in the company’s stringent internal testing. These tests by the IIHS are conducted to determine cost estimates to repair damage incurred in low speed bumper impact tests and are not related to occupant safety. In addition, these tests may not be representative of the type of damage that occurs in real world situations.”

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