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Tests show tough pickups, SUVs have wimpy bumpers

In its testing, the institute said, it found the RAV4 has a bumper made only of exterior molding with no energy-absorbing material and no reinforcement bars  

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- They are advertised as rough and rugged, but according to a new Insurance Institute for Highway Safety study, some large pickups and small sport utility vehicles have bumpers that are anything but sturdy. In fact, the institute characterizes the bumpers as "flimsy."

The institute most recently tested four large-model pickup trucks and three small SUVs, all 2001 models, in four 5-mph crashes designed to simulate the kind of collisions that occur in slow-moving commuter traffic or parking lots. In all but one case, the vehicles sustained "excessive" damage.

CNN's Sean Callebs shows the cars crashing into walls and poles

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"The performances of the four large pickup trucks ranged from poor to awful," said Adrian Lund, the institute's chief operating officer.

The tests were the latest in an ongoing series of low-speed crash tests conducted by the institute.

The organization tested the Dodge Ram, Toyota Tundra, Ford F-150 and Chevrolet Silverado large trucks and the Ford Escape, Hyundai Santa Fe and Toyota RAV4 sport utility vehicles.

All vehicles were tested in four categories: front-into-flat barrier, rear-into-flat barrier, front-into-angle barrier and rear-into-pole.

Dodge advertises its Ram pickup truck as the "mother of all trucks," but in the institute's crash test it performed poorly, with damage in the four separate crash tests totaling more than $8,000. The front-into-flat-barrier test caused damage not only to the bumper but to the grille, hood, air-conditioner condenser and radiator support, according to the institute.

In response, a DaimlerChrysler statement said: "It is important to note that the results of this test reflect insurance claim costs, not vehicle safety. Bumpers on all Chrysler Group vehicles meet or exceed all federal safety standards."

The Toyota Tundra and Ford F-150 could not be driven after the front-bumper into angled-barrier test, which caused the bumpers to lodge against tires. The cost for repair -- combining all the tests -- was $7,044 for the Toyota and $5,159 for the Ford.

"These pickups may look tough, but they're clearly not tough at all when it comes to preventing damage in low-speed crashes," Lund said.

Toyota said the way the tests are conducted is not representative of actual crashes.

"The cumulative damage estimate has nothing to do with a real-world crash," said Toyota Public Affairs Director John McCandless. But he added, "We're going to take a look at the test results to see why the numbers came up high."

The best-performing vehicle was the Chevrolet Silverado, Chevy's most popular model. Still, the truck sustained nearly $766 in damage to its bumper system after the flat-barrier tests, in which vehicles should not be damaged at all.

The total cost of damage to the truck after all four tests was $4,261.

Of the small SUVs, only the Ford Escape earned an acceptable rating. The institute said its bumpers were the only "halfway decent" bumpers of all vehicles tested.

The Escape averaged $485 in repair costs in individual bumper tests.

Ford defended both the Escape and F-150 in an official statement, saying both vehicles "meet or exceed government standards, the company's more stringent internal requirements and the expectations of our customers."

Ford said the tests are a way to measure costs for insurance companies and are not related to safety. The statement criticized the simulations, saying the tests -- in particular, the rear-pole test -- did not simulate what happens in real-world situations.

The redesigned Toyota RAV4 turned in a worse performance than last year and the worst performance of all vehicles tested. After its bumpers collapsed in the tests, the institute said the RAV4's styling almost assures excessive damage.

"The Toyota RAV4, like a number of other sport utility vehicles, has the spare tire mounted on the tailgate. This design, which is predominately for styling reasons, guarantees excessive damage in a whole range of rear collisions," said Brian O'Neill, president of the institute.

In its testing, the institute said, it found the RAV4 has a bumper made only of exterior molding with no energy-absorbing material and no reinforcement bars.

Toyota's statement echoed other carmakers in saying its vehicles meet or exceed all federal crashworthiness requirements. "The low-speed tests conducted by the IIHS were devised not to address safety issues, but to address insurance industry loss issues," the statement said.

Toyota also questioned the motives and testing procedures of the institute.

The federal government's bumper standards currently apply only to passenger cars. Bumper protection is at the discretion of auto manufacturers, so long as the bumper is between 16 and 20 inches above the road's surface.

Since a full bumper is not required, some manufactures omit the bumper altogether and place bumper guards over vehicle equipment instead.

The government has said it does not plan to regulate bumpers on sports utility vehicles, minivans or pickup trucks. Creating a standard, government officials have said, could compromise the performance of these vehicles.

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Insurance Institute for Highway Safety
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

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4:30pm ET, 4/16

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