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Ford Pickup Safety 'Poor'

Jun 4, 2002 | CNN The nation's top-selling vehicle, the Ford F-150 pickup truck, fared poorly in high-speed crash tests, according to a new study of large pickup trucks by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, which found the results ranged from good to poor for other makes and models.

In 40 mph tests, the institute characterized the safety performance of the Ford F-150 and Dodge Ram as poor. In the case of the F-150, the institute said it's about as "bad as it gets."

A Ford F-150 pickup after a crash test conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. The best-selling pickup received the worst safety rating by the group.

Two other large pickups tested by the instituted fared much better.

The Toyota Tundra got a good overall rating, along with a good rating for five of six sub-categories. It received a marginal rating only for the chance of a injury to a driver's right foot.

The GMC Sierra 1500 and its twin Chevrolet Silverado 1500 received a marginal rating overall, with a good rating for its prevention of different types of injuries, but poor ratings for the cab's structural integrity as well as how well the airbag, seat belts and other restraints restricted movement by a crash dummy during the test.

Ford said other test results have shown the F-150 to be "outstanding," with a high level of safety. The F-150 has been the nation's best-selling pickup for the past 19 years.

Still, the institute's rating comes at a bad time, as the world's No. 2 automaker fights charges by tiremaker Bridgestone/Firestone that it is ignoring safety problems in the design of its best-selling Explorer sport/utility vehicle. More than 170 deaths have been tied to rollover accidents involving Firestone-brand tires on Ford vehicles, primarily the Explorer. While Ford has insisted the problem is the design of the tire, Bridgestone/Firestone officials insist that the design of the Explorer played a role in the accidents.

DaimlerChrysler, maker of the Dodge Ram, said no single test reflects a vehicle's "real-world safety."

But the institute's evaluation was harsh. The F-150 "exhibited major collapse of the occupant compartment in the offset test," said Brian O'Neill, the institute president. "As a result of this collapse, the dummy's movement wasn't well controlled. High-injury measures were recorded on the dummy's head and neck. The airbag deployed late in the crash, and this also contributed to the high injury measures."

"This was a very poor performer," O'Neill said.

The institute is a private organization funded by auto insurers. The institute's crash-worthiness evaluations consist of three performance measurements: occupant compartment intrusion, injury measurements of a dummy in the driver seat, and analysis of how well the vehicle restraint system controlled dummy movement.

Institute used higher-speed crash test

The institute has been testing vehicles in 40 mph offset crashes to complement the governments 35 mph full-width crash tests since 1995.

In the frontal crash test, the Tundra's occupant compartment had very little intrusion, and its doors still worked afterward. Engineers take eight measurements of intrusion around the dummy and two additional measurements of shifts of the inside compartment. The Tundra's measurements were solid. The crumple zone and safety cage all held up well.

"A key aspect of protecting people in crashes is keeping the space around the occupants intact," O'Neill said. "Then the safety belts and airbags can prevent significant injuries, even in very serious crashes. This is what happened in the Tundra, but not in the F-150."

James Vondale, director of Fords' automotive safety office, called the frontal offset test "an extremely severe high-speed test that does not often occur in real-world situations."

"That said, we are certainly examining the results of the test to see if any structural changes can be made without compromising the already high level of safety of the vehicle," Vondale added.

In its statement, Ford said government data show the F-series pickup's performance to be "outstanding" in real-world crashes and added that the pickup has performed well in crash tests by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

NHTSA's crash tests gave the 2000 F-150 four stars out of a possible five for protecting driver and passenger in a frontal crash, and the top five-star rating for a side impact.

The 2001 F-150 has not been tested by NHTSA for a frontal crash but the side impact once again got a five-star rating, while the 2001 F-150 extended cab pickup got a four-star rating for protecting the driver in a frontal crash, a five-star rating for protecting the front-seat passenger in a frontal crash, and a five star ratings for protecting both front and rear seat passengers in a side crash.

The Dodge Ram had problems similar to the F-150 in the institute's test. It also received a poor rating. The dummy had significant movement in the offset crash and the airbag deployed late.

In a statement, DaimlerChrysler said it recognizes the importance of providing consumers with crash-test information, but doesn't think the tests adequately describe the safety of the Ram.

"Our first priority is to engineer vehicles that perform safely in the real world, as well as to meet all standards established by the federal government," the statement read. "Our second is to do well in consumer rating tests. However, no single test can measure a vehicle's overall safety performance, and they don't necessarily reflect a vehicle's real-world safety."

The 2001 Dodge Ram 1500 pickup got a five star rating from NHTSA for protecting the driver and front-seat passenger in a frontal impact, although no side impact crash test has been conducted.

Relatively low injury measurements in the Chevrolet Silverado earned the truck a marginal rating. There was concern with the intrusion to the occupant compartment and dummy movement in the offset test.

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