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Status Report, Vol. 36, No. 3 | SPECIAL ISSUE: CRASHWORTHINESS IMPROVEMENTS | March 20, 2001 Subscribe

Offset tests reveal safety problems, prompt remedies

Occasionally the Institute's 40 mph frontal offset tests expose unexpected safety problems that prompt automakers to make midyear design changes and, sometimes, to initiate safety recalls to fix the problems. Three examples:

  • The Institute tested three Isuzu Troopers. Multiple tests were conducted because of a major fuel system leak after the first test of a 2000 model. Isuzu engineers identified a design problem that led to the leak, came up with a fix, and initiated a recall. When the Institute tested a 2001 Trooper with the fix, it leaked too. Isuzu again addressed the problem and issued a recall. When a third Trooper was tested, no fluid leaked. "Our tests identified the potential for leaking before many 2000 and 2001 Troopers had been on the road for long. There was no evidence of fires in real crashes, and Isuzu fixed the problem quickly," Institute president Brian O'Neill points out.
  • Volkswagen recalled 1999 Jettas and Golfs after a fire hazard was identified in the offset test of a Jetta. The pyrotechnic safety belt crash tensioners ignited insulation in the car's B-pillar. The recall to remove the potentially flammable material was initiated early, before many cars with the design problem had been sold.
  • In the Institute's 5 mph bumper tests, the Volvo S80's airbags deployed. This was a problem because the impact speed was too slow to warrant inflation. At this speed, the airbags would be likely to do more harm than good. And in the 40 mph offset test of the S80, hot gas was released through the airbag vent holes, melting the "skin" on the driver dummy's hands. Volvo solved both problems.

"This isn't why we conduct our tests, but we do notify automakers and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration as soon as we discover specific safety problems," O'Neill notes. "Then it's important for the manufacturers to respond quickly, and they virtually always do, which is good."

Crashworthiness keeps improving

Automakers are incorporating the Institute's 40 mph frontal offset test into their designs, and ratings are improving as a result.

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