Small Pickup Trucks Lag in IIHS Crash and Roof Crush Tests

By Larry Edsall for

Only one of five small pickup trucks – the Nissan Frontier -- tested for rollover protection received a good rating from the by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the group reported late Wednesday. However, even the Frontier (also sold as the Suzuki Equator) fell short of achieving the IIHS’ “Top Safety Pick” recognition.

Worst of all, though, was the failure of the Dodger Dakota’s side-curtain airbags to deploy in the pickup’s side-impact test.

“In our tests, side airbags have proven to be very reliable, so this is a surprise,” said IIHS spokesman Russ Rader.

The Dodge Dakota's side impact airbags failed to deploy in the IIHS test.

The IIHS says that Chrysler engineers told the Institute that they have identified the problem – a computer program algorithm that calculates when to fire the airbags – and are working on a remedy. The Institute will retest the Dakota after that software is repaired.

“The Dakota is the only 2010 small pickup the Institute tested that has optional rather than standard side airbags,” IIHS senior vice president David Zuby said in a statement. “Most of the auto industry pledged to get standard side airbags in every new passenger vehicle by now.

“Chrysler is the only manufacturer we know of that isn’t living up to the spirit of the 2003 agreement.”

In that agreement, 15 automakers agreed on rules to reduce the risks in frontal and side crashes involving larger and heavier sport utility vehicles and pickup trucks. According to the IIHS, “the idea was to make safety improvements like installing side airbags in all passenger vehicles more quickly than would have been the case with a government regulation.”


Rader noted that “one overall takeaway is that small pickups generally do not do as well in safety tests as other vehicle groups.”

But, he added, “We expect that to change as new models are designed.”

He said that it is not unusual for vehicles to fail to achieve a “good” rating in the rollover tests, a new part of IIHS ratings.

For example, among micro and mini cars, only one of six vehicles achieved a “good” rating. Among midsize cars, only 11 of 23 received “good” scores. Among small SUVs, only five of 14 got the “good” rating.

Nonetheless, “as a group, small pickups aren’t performing as well as small cars or small SUVs in all of the Institute’s safety tests,” Zuby said. “None of the ones we tested is a top-notch performer across the board.”

The Nissan Frontier after the IIHS performed its new roof crush test. It performed best among all small trucks.

The Frontier/Equator came close, but was rated only as “acceptable” for protection against occupant neck injuries in a rear crash. To be a top safety pick, a vehicle has to earn “good” scores in front, side, rear and rollover tests, and has to be equipped with electronic stability control.

In the Institute’s roof strength test, a metal plate is pushed against one corner of the roof at a constant speed. To earn a “good” rating, the roof must withstand a force four times the vehicle’s weight before reaching five inches of crush. A scale of strength-to-weight determines the acceptable, marginal and poor ratings.

The Frontier/Equator’s roof withstood 4.11 times vehicle weight. At 3.32, the Ford Ranger was rated “acceptable.” The Dodge Dakota (3.23), Toyota Tacoma (3.08) and Chevrolet Colorado/GMC Canyon were rated “marginal.”


The IIHS also conducted side-impact tests and the Colorado/Canyon was rated “poor” in that category.

The Institute noted that while the Colorado/Canyon has standard side-curtain airbags, it “lacks additional airbags designed to protect a driver’s torso. The Colorado’s poor structure, along with poor protection for the driver dummy’s chest and pelvis, contributed to its poor rating overall. Plus the dummy’s head came close to moving around the curtain airbags during the impact by the intruding barrier.”

In fact, Zuby said, “a slightly different crash configuration could have resulted in a direct hit from the barrier on the dummy’s head.”

In the side-impact tests, the Frontier/Equator, Ranger and Tacoma were rated “good.”


These test results are another reason why Ford is killing the current Ranger. I bet if they upgraded the Ranger to acceptable test standards they would loose money. Same reason why we willl not see a diesel in anything less than a HD p/u.
Dakota side airbags fail to deploy! That's reasuring considering the roads are full of run away Toyotas;)

What happened to the Colorado?

With a roof collapsing like that it should not be allowed on the roads!!!

"Dakota side airbags fail to deploy! That's reasuring considering the roads are full of run away Toyotas"

You win quote of the day!

"These test results are another reason why Ford is killing the current Ranger. I bet if they upgraded the Ranger to acceptable test standards they would loose money."

Huh? The Ranger performs acceptable in frontal, good in side, acceptable in rollover, and acceptable in roof-crush.

The Ranger actually outperformed the others in several crash tests. Acceptable ratings from the IIHS in every test, considering the platform is over 25 years old, is an amazing feat.

@The Luigiian - upcoming safety standards are going to be more stringent than the current ones. The Ranger isn't even close to meeting those standards, therefore the need for a new truck.

@Lou: That's unfortunate, because judging by Ford's current tune it doesn't sound like we're getting a new Ranger. And it doesn't sound like Ford's interested in the F-100 concept either.

So I guess F-150's for all? Too large for my taste. I guess I'm just a car guy in Ford's eyes. And I hate cars.

I was on campus in 2004 and saw this brand new (2004) Colorado Z71 crew with the roof crush similar like that...and it was still being driven on the the time!
Go Nissan (Frontier and Equator)! Now why do you want to shrink the truck now? See below link...

Smaller trucks typically suck in the crash categories. Keep the Frontier midsize and add a small Hardbody pickup.

LOL Bring the 1983 Ford Ranger up to 2010 standards!
“Chrysler is the only manufacturer we know of that isn’t living up to the spirit of the 2003 agreement [of adding side airbags].” Chrysler made the side airbags on the big Ram-squared standard. To me they're just screwing the Dakota over.

If you look at the truck sales statistics the Ford Ranger had + 47.3% increase and Nissan Frontier + 22 % increase. They both are more "traditional" compact trucks.
I think thee is a market for a true compact truck.

The current Ranger is on the way out. they came close to shutting it down with the B series. It's kinda sad, but I had to buy a 2010 F150 b/c the new ranger isn't due for a couple years & needed one now - not enough room in the scab ranger.

mazda quit selling the B series alltogether (ranger undercover.). I had a 98 B2500 I miss dearly, traded for this F150.

Now ford sells a crew cab ranger with a 4 cyl diesel in europe - which is the Mazda B50 every where else but north america!

the next ranger will likely be just a refreshed B50, b/c of Mullaly's one ford plan. I hope it is, it's a nice truck, would have bought that instead of an F150 hands down.

The tacos just suck. they are having trans, rear end issues to name a few. the prev gen the frames rot worse than the old ones from the 80s & 90s. plus the dealers are smug & rude around here where I live. glad I didn't buy one!

Why doesn't Ford just keep the currrent frame? I mean, its worked well and has proven it durability for 20 years or so. Add an inch to the width of the truck, beef up the roof structure a little, and maybe extend the cab a bit and there ya go. It just seems to me that it isn't that hard to produce a new Ranger. Nothing really wrong with the old one, just needs a slight upsizing/ reskinning. Retooling would be a pricey bitch but they would easily make it up in sales. Gas does not appear to be gettting any cheaper so the future sales outlook seems pretty good. How about throwing that v6 thats in the Edge into it as well. That thing screams.

OK, Lou, I've heard of these new crash test standards before. I was under the impression that they consisted of:

-Roof crush 3 times the vehicle's weight (versus the current 1.5x)
-Standard ESC and stability control
-Standard side airbags

So far as I know the Ranger meets all of these, as per IIHS's own tests and in options available.

Do you have a link showing what else these vehicles are supposed to do? What are the specifics of these new crash regs you speak of?

So if the Dodge Dakota had its airbags fail to deploy, why isn't the DOT Sec. calling for a recall?

Why isn't there an investigation into this and other possible computer glitches with the Dakota?

Hmmm, has the federal government that owns some of these auto makers being selective in their bashing of certain foreign named auto giants to help their struggling and weak domestic brands?

You bet!

I <3 my Frontier.

@Billy in other markets nissan still sells the last generation frontier as a compact and lower cost truck they should do the same in North America

@The Luigiian - not meeting new safety standards is one of the reasons that have been floating around as to why Ford is going to kill the Ranger. I believe those new standards are to start in 2012. I'll see if I can find the link or post for you. Thanks for asking.

@The Luigiian - sorry. couldn't find the link. This is all I could locate.

Tis no problem Lou, it's awesome of you to try. :)

I think you're a damn fine poster here, and you've made some excellent posts regarding the Ranger and many other trucks.

I still have a feeling the Ranger may stay on until Ford can put a four-cylinder in the F-150, though. I'd guess that would be by around 2013 or so. I think the Ranger's going to get one more reprieve, just until the redesign, and then finally the F-150 will have the mileage to justify its spot and the current Ranger will finally be quietly allowed to rest.

I've also heard the F-150 is to shrink down to around old 1990s size F-150s with its next refresh, which I think is a brilliant move as well. That was the sweet spot for truck size, not too big or small.

I hope that Ford gives the Ranger an Ecoboost 2.0 liter for its last incarnation. The Ranger isn't a great truck, I know, but I've had a sweet spot for it for years and I'd like to get one of the last ones off the lot before it goes the way of the dodo. If Ford doesn't upgrade it, though, no big loss, I'll just probably wind up with a Jeep Patriot or perhaps something else entirely we don't know about yet.

Anyhow, see you at the next pickup post.

"I've also heard the F-150 is to shrink down to around old 1990s size F-150s with its next refresh, which I think is a brilliant move as well. That was the sweet spot for truck size, not too big or small."

Well they certainly had lower GVW, but they were hardly smaller.

@The Luigiian. You were correct. It seems that this test are the new standards. It may of been an excuse for Ford against modernizing the Ranger.

Good roof-crush test results are more important for small pickups as they have a higher chance of rollover than most cars, crossovers, and even SUVs. According to the IIHS, almost 10,000 people are killed yearly in accidents that involve rollover, and roofs that collapse can not only lead to more injuries but also to a greater chance of ejection from the vehicle when occupants aren't properly belted in. Nearly half of all fatalities in pickup crashes were in trucks that rolled over.

The comments to this entry are closed.