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Status Report, Vol. 39, No. 1 | January 3, 2004 Subscribe

From worst to bestRedesigned Ford F-150 improves in crash test

The redesigned Ford F-150 pickup earned the highest overall rating and a "best pick" designation for performance in the Institute's high-speed frontal crash test. This represents a dramatic improvement compared with the performance of the 2001 F-150, which was rated poor overall. These ratings reflect performance in 40 mph frontal offset crash tests into a deformable barrier.

Based on the results, the Institute evaluates the crashworthiness of passenger vehicles, assigning each vehicle a rating from good overall to poor. If a vehicle earns a good rating, it means that in a real-world crash of similar severity a belted driver would be likely to walk away with only minor injuries. A "best pick" designation means the vehicle performed well across the board in the offset test.

"The F-150 went from the worst performing large pickup truck we've tested to the best," says Institute president Brian O'Neill. Ford's new minivan, the 2004 model Freestar, also earned a crashworthiness rating of good overall and is a "best pick."

"The good test results for the 2004 model F-150 and the Freestar mean that Ford has the top-rated full-size pickup truck and one of the two top-rated minivans in the Institute's frontal crashworthiness evaluations," O'Neill says.

Intrusion measures are much lower

When the Institute tested the old F-150, "there was massive collapse of the occupant compartment, and as a result high injury forces were recorded on the driver dummy," O'Neill points out. "In contrast, the compartment of the new F-150 held up extremely well in the offset test, the dummy's movement was well controlled, and all injury measures were low."

Measured intrusion (centimeters) in 40 mph frontal offset test, redesigned 2004 Ford F-150 compared with 2001 model


By all eight measurements of intrusion into the F-150's occupant compartment, the 2004 model far outperformed the 2001. These measurements indicate how well the front-end crush zones of the two F-150s managed the energy of the Institute's frontal offset test and how well the safety cages limited intrusion into the space around the driver dummies. Larger intrusion measurements indicate more collapse of the safety cage and less survival space for the driver. Lower intrusion measurements, such as those recorded for the 2004 F-150 design, indicate that the occupant compartment remained largely intact during the test, leaving plenty of space around the driver dummy.

Ford requests tests

It's unusual for the Institute to release crash test results for vehicles from just one manufacturer. Ford requested the tests of the F-150 and Freestar early in the model year, and it's longstanding Institute policy to grant such requests if the manufacturer reimburses the Institute for the cost of the vehicles.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the federal agency that also conducts crashworthiness evaluations, has a similar policy.

Structural design is key

The Institute's frontal offset test into a deformable barrier is especially demanding of vehicle structure. The driver side hits the barrier, so a relatively small area of the vehicle's front-end structure must manage the crash energy. This means intrusion into the occupant compartment is more likely to occur than in a full-width test.

"Good structural design is the key to good performance in the offset test," O'Neill says. "If a vehicle's front-end structure absorbs and manages the crash energy so the occupant compartment remains largely intact, with little or no intrusion into the driver space, then the dummy's movement can be controlled, and injury measures are likely to be low. In contrast, poor structural design means greater likelihood of poor control of the dummy and high injury measures."

Minivan improves, too

98 trans

1999 Ford Windstar

97 trans

2004 Ford Freestar

When the Institute tested the old Ford Windstar, there was too much upward movement of the steering wheel, which could compromise restraint system performance. Intrusion into the footwell area contributed to moderately high forces on the dummy's left leg. In contrast is the performance of the Freestar, a new design for 2004. There was less intrusion, the steering column didn't move excessively, and dummy movement during the crash was well controlled. All dummy injury measures were low.

Among current minivan designs, only the Freestar and Toyota Sienna earn good ratings and "best pick" designations, based on 40 mph test performance.

F-150 bumpers don't improve

The bumpers on the 2001 F-150 were poor. They allowed a total of $5,470 damage in four low-speed (5 mph) crash tests.

The bumpers on the new 2004 model are just as flimsy and even a little worse, allowing $5,912 damage in the same four tests. The worst damage was in the rear-into-pole test. The whole bumper of the F-150 was pushed downward, and the tailgate was crushed. In addition, the left and right ends of the bumper were driven into the rear fenders.

After each of the four 5 mph tests, the bumper on the 2004 F-150 had to be replaced. In both of the frontal tests, most of the damage was due to replacing the entire bumper assembly, which costs almost $800.

The Institute's series of four bumper tests includes front- and rear-into-flat-barrier plus front-into-angle-barrier and rear-into-pole. 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.

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