Crash tests reveal issues with luxury cars

August 14, 2012 4:37:14 PM PDT
Surprising results from a new type of crash test may have you wondering about the safety of your vehicle.

You've seen head-on collisions, but the new test shows what happens when cars are hit slightly less than head-on, and in most cases the cars involved do not perform well.

The new tests looks at how cars handle small overlap collisions, where a car is hit here. The cars involved in the new test are luxury cars, the very cars that get the most safety features. Eleven were tested, only three passed.

Front-end collisions that are not head-on are known as small overlap frontal crashes. They are gaining attention of car safety experts who say car makers and drivers should be concerned about how cars react in the accidents.

"Even though people are much safer than they used to be, 10,000 people each year die in frontal crashes," said Adrian Lund, President of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

One-quarter of those deaths are due to small overlap frontal crashes. Now the IIHS, which is funded by car makers, is testing cars for these crashes. The institute found of 2012 models, only three of 11 luxury cars earned what the institute considers good or acceptable ratings.

"It represents a problem that is currently not being addressed by most vehicle front crashworthiness design," said Chief Research Officer David Zuby.

You can see the issue in a side-by-side comparison with head-on crashes. Instead of the force of the impact getting spread across the car's safety cage, the force from the small overlap crash goes to the car's corner.

"People are vulnerable in small overlap crashes because these structures are bypassed ands the crash force can go directly into the occupant compartment," said Lund.

In the IIHS test, Volvo S-60 and Acura T-l did the best, the Infiniti G-series result was acceptable, and the Lexus 350I-S did the worst.

"That energy comes right in here, it's full force," said mechanic Jim Miller with Freedom Automotive.

Miller frequently sees the result of small overlap crashes. He says often the crashes do not trigger airbags and adds he's not surprised cars are failing the new test.

"The passenger is not really protected, all they are getting protected by is the seat belt and the way the seat is designed and the interior of the car," Miller said.

So far the tests have only been performed on luxury cars because they typically get the latest safety features first. The next tests will involve family sedans and the folks here think most medium-priced vehicles will likely fail at the new tests just like the luxury brands.

Click here to see the list of cars tested.

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