Automobile

Watch These 12 Vehicles Score Poor Ratings During IIHS Crash Testing

Slow motion footage of a car colliding with a barrier makes an awesome GIF. Sheet metal crumples like wrapping paper, headlights explode, and, even on newer models, there’s always a grille or chunk of plastic trim that flies away like an Airbus departing LAX. After the kinetic energy settles, there sits the yellow dummy. A faceless reminder of us.

Each year, the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety (IIHS) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) put hundreds of new cars, trucks, and SUVs through systematic testing to help show how the exact same accident in one vehicle might be different in another. And that difference could be one between life and death. The IIHS states that if behind the wheel of a Good rated car, you’re 70 percent less likely to die than if you had been in a Poor rated car, at least where the driver-side collisions are concerned. You might’ve already seen our list of the safest cars and SUVs for 2021, but this collection is a little different. With the help of the IIHS, we’ve put together a list of vehicles from the past 25 years that did especially poorly during specific crash tests.

1996 Chevrolet Astro Van and GMC Safari

From 1985, General Motors produced over three million Chevy Astro Vans and GMC Safaris at its assembly plant in Baltimore, Maryland. Production ended in 2005, after the 70-year-old plant was closed and later demolished. Today, used second-gen Astros and Safaris are a favorite among people who travel across country to camp and find adventure. They might have a comfy ride with plenty of cargo space in the back, but they were also given a Poor rating from the IIHS and a three-star rating by NHTSA. During its moderate overlap test, the floor beneath the driver buckled, pushing the the seat upward and its driver further into the airbag. The driver’s face slammed into the steering wheel even after the airbag deployed. The footwell area is already pretty compact on these vans, and in this testing, nearly put the dummy’s knees into its chest after impact.

1996 Ford Aerostar

We loved it, but the Ford Aerostar was such a weird van. Imagine if Ford built a van today that borrowed its engine from the Mustang, drivetrain components from the Ranger, and could be sold as a rear-wheel drive model. Agreed, that absolutely should happen. It had a long, happy run and never changed much. We drove a four-wheel drive model to Alaska in a comparison test, and it placed second despite being six years old. Things didn’t go as smooth in IIHS crash testing. It earned a Poor rating in the moderate overlap test, even after adding standard airbags for 1992. Although the airbag deployed, the dummy’s head was still able to hit the steering wheel hard enough to break the wheel from the steering column. The collapsed area in the lower left-foot area was also given a Poor rating.

1997 Jeep Cherokee

The Jeep Cherokee received a Marginal rating from the IIHS for its moderate overlap test, but was given a Poor rating for left leg and foot driver injury. Why? Because being able to see the top of the tire through the hole in the floor of the vehicle is bad. The same way eating glass is bad. It just is. The steering wheel also moved far enough upward that the dummy’s head bottomed out on the airbag, and hit the steering wheel. If your spouse needed more proof as to why a two-inch lift and larger tires were necessary on your 24-year-old XJ, here it is. Also, you shouldn’t need to justify any part of your XJ to anyone. These things rock.

1997 Pontiac Trans Sport/Montana and Chevrolet Venture and Oldsmobile Silhouette

GM wanted to soak up some of Chrysler’s minivan success , which is why Chevy, Pontiac, Oldsmobile, and GMC all had some variation of van named like an off-brand hiking shoe. The Trans Sport, Montana, Venture, and Silhouette all received overall Poor ratings in IIHS crash tests. Like the Astro Van and Safari, floor buckling caused the driver’s seat to move forward, while the steering wheel and airbag moved upward, bending the dummy’s neck. In photos after the 40-mph moderate overlap test, the top of the dummy’s head is nearly parallel with the dashboard, and the knees and legs are twisted within the collapsed driver’s area. To top it off, in 2001 NHTSA investigated reports of power-sliding doors opening when the vans turned, drove up a hill, or experienced rough road surfaces. Another investigation in 2002 found 44 faulty seatbelt latches from 59 consumer reports. The following generation Trans Sport and Montana, as well as the Uplander and Saturn Relay that replaced the Venture and the Silhouette, were a big improvement in terms of safety. All received Good ratings from the IIHS.

2000 Dodge Neon

Throughout two generations and a decade of Dodge Neons, the little Plymouth scored Poor ratings during IIHS crash tests. During the debut model’s crash testing, the dummy’s head bottomed out on the airbag and hit the steering wheel. The second-generation Neon did worse. Excessive movement in the 40-mph test meant the dummy was able to move too far forward again, but this time the steering wheel broke loose as the impact caused movement from the dashboard. The interior photos show both the dummy’s knees making contact with the bottom of the dashboard. It received a Poor rating again for side impact for models without the optional curtain airbags, as of course, the dummy’s head smashed into the barrier.

2001 Ford F-150

A lot went wrong with the 10th-generation Ford F-150 pickup as it aged. Among its problems were leaky and cracked exhaust manifolds, rusty and broken leaf-spring shackles, and truck-load of recalls. Also, the 1997-to-2003 Ford F-150 extended cab model was given a Poor rating by the IIHS for crashworthiness. The airbag deployed too late, the steering wheel moved too far upward, and due to excessive driver’s seat movement, the dummy’s head was left pinned between the steering wheel and the headrest. And that’s during a test at just 40 mph. The crash tests conducted for the following generation pickup, in 2004, were dramatically better with Good ratings for models equipped with integrated seatbelts. Although the current 2021 F-150 hasn’t been fully tested by the IIHS or NHTSA, the 2016 to 2020 crew cab model years were a Top Safety Pick and given five-star ratings for safety.

2004 Mitsubishi Galant

The 2004 Mitsubishi Galant debuted as a wider, longer, and larger sedan than any Galant before it. Its new platform, dubbed Project America, would also underpin the Eclipse coupe and Endeavor SUV. During IIHS crash testing, the Galant received a Good rating for front moderate overlap, but Poor ratings for both side and head restraints and seats. The rig that’s sent directly into the driver’s side of cars at 31-mph in this test weighs as much as a fully loaded Ford EcoSport, or roughly 3300 pounds. Compare that to the 4400-pound heft of your average midsize truck or SUV sold in America, and the results would only be worse in the real world. For the Galant, the driver’s head made contact with the rig, leaving a visible dent in its sheet metal. That’s a definite fail. Mitsubishi made side-curtain airbags standard on the Galant for 2005, which helped prevent head impact, and improved safety ratings. The Galant was discontinued after the 2012 model year.

2007 Hyundai Accent

The third-generation Hyundai Accent, or Kia Rio, which shares the platform, was an affordable compact available in both sedan and hatchback body styles. During IIHS side-impact testing, the Accent received a Poor rating despite having front- and rear-curtain airbags and front-torso airbags. This test showed that in the case of a side impact, it would actually be safer to be sitting in the back seat. The Accent’s rear passenger space received a Good rating, but things didn’t go so well for the dummy behind the wheel. Driver torso, leg, and pelvis were the most susceptible to severe injury from this test, likely due to how far the door and structures around it collapsed into the car. These ratings remained the same until the 2012 Accent arrived, but the new car only managed an Average rating during the same test and returned a Poor rating for its small overlap front test.

2013 Honda Fit

Fold the rear seats down in the 2013 Honda Fit, and the flat load floor gives 57 cubic feet of cargo space, 15 cubic feet more than the Ford Explorer of similar model year. We awarded it a 10Best trophy in 2007, again in 2008, and each year after until the third-generation Fit launched in 2015. It even earned a Top Safety Pick award from IIHS throughout those years, but with one major fault—its Poor rating for the driver-side small overlap crash test. Excessive dummy movement caused by the driver’s seatbelt allowed the dummy’s head to slide across and eventually off the airbag. An airbag with better coverage would’ve kept the dummy’s head in place, and could’ve prevented it from striking the A-pillar, steering wheel, or dashboard. The Fit that followed received better safety ratings in IIHS crash tests. The problem of sliding between two airbags was solved, but excessive forward movement remained, causing the dummy’s head to move so far forward it would make contact with the steering wheel through the airbag.

2014 Nissan Quest

The van called Quest wasn’t a very popular one. The fourth-generation minivan’s best-selling year was in 2012 when Nissan sold 18,275, which wasn’t even half as good as the previous Quest’s best year in 2004 with over 46,000 sold. It was a tough time across the entire segment, but when you try to sell something with 40 percent less cargo space than competitors like the Honda Odyssey, well, it made picking something else easy. The 2011-to-2017 Quest was given a Poor rating in driver-side small overlap tests, as its dashboard, parking brake, and A-pillar crushed so far into the driver’s cockpit, it trapped the dummy’s left leg. The IIHS had to remove the driver’s seat to retrieve their test dummy, and the survival space inside the van was severely compromised. It’s not the only van with such bad ratings either. The 2008-to-2020 Dodge Grand Caravan received a Poor rating in the same test, but this time time the parking brake pedal was “deeply embedded in the dummy’s lower leg skin.” Uh, yikes.

2014 Mazda CX-9

Time has been better to the Mazda CX-9 than others. Today’s Mazda CX-9 has multiple 10Best awards, and, more recently, a Top Safety Pick+ award from the IIHS. Things were not always this way. A Poor rating was given to the first-gen CX-9 during driver-side small overlap crash testing. During the test, the dummy barely made contact with the airbag, and ended up hitting the window frame as the steering column and its airbag continued to move up and away from the dummy as the collision occurred. The CX-9’s side airbag never deployed, and the dummy’s legs looked pinched between the seat and the lower dashboard after the crash. The same CX-9 scored better during the moderate overlap front and side crash tests, getting Good ratings in both. Today every vehicle in Mazda’s lineup—except for the MX-5 Miata, which hasn’t been tested—has earned a Top Safety Pick+ rating from the IIHS.

2018 Ford Escape

In 2013 Ford replaced its long in the tooth Mazda-based Escape with a new and improved generation that used its own architecture for Escape and Focus. It worked. Annual Escape sales rose to over 300,000. The IIHS added front small overlap crash tests to its requirements that same year. The Escape rated Poor for both driver- and passenger-side tests, but maintained a Good rating throughout the rest. In 2017 Ford partly remedied this on refreshed Escapes by reinforcing the front structure to improve its Poor overlap crash test, according to the IIHS. This only solved half of the problem. Although the Ford Escape would score higher, this time an Acceptable rating, the necessary improvements were only for the driver’s side. The passenger side didn’t receive additional structural support, and would still get a Poor rating. The dummy in the front-passenger seat rolled off the side of the front airbag, and the side curtain airbag never deployed. The lower dashboard area of the Escape collapsed far enough to make contact with the occupants knees. Not the case for new Ford Escape models, which were deemed an IIHS Top Safety Pick, and given a five-star safety rating from the NHTSA.

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