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Are Compact SUVs Safe? Recent IIHS Crash Studies Say No

BY: Chris Brown
Cars and SUVs parked in a parking lot

Most car owners would be forgiven for assuming that their vehicle is safe to drive, but as it turns out, that isn’t always the case. Just recently, the Insurance Institute For Highway Safety (IIHS) spent some time analyzing the safety performance of compact SUVs and crossovers, and the results were somewhat concerning.

The organization tests vehicles based on two aspects of safety: crashworthiness (how well a vehicle protects its occupants in a crash) and crash avoidance/mitigation (technology that can prevent a crash or lessen its severity). A verified list of popular compact SUVs was put through their paces, including the Subaru Forester, Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4, Ford Escape, Hyundai Tucson, Jeep Compass, Chevrolet Equinox, Mazda CX-5, Mitsubishi Outlander, and Volkswagen Taos.

Here, we’ll examine the crash test methodology, the results for each vehicle, and what the ranking outcomes might mean for current owners and future buyers. We’ll also explain extended warranties and how they can be particularly valuable for owners of vehicles with lower safety ratings.

The IIHS Crash Test Methodology

For these tests, in particular, the IIHS took things a little further than usual. In an update to its vehicle-to-vehicle front crash prevention evaluation, they upped the testing speeds from 12 mph and 25 mph to 31 mph, 37 mph, and 43 mph. This updated test also sees each compact SUV crash with three different vehicle types: a traditional passenger car, a motorcycle, and a semitrailer.

Tests with each vehicle type are run at all three speeds, and forward-collision warning and automatic emergency braking systems are evaluated. An engineer is behind the wheel of the SUV for the tests and must swerve out of the way while evaluating both safety features. The SUV models earn points by warning the driver at least 2.1 seconds before the time of impact and for significant speed reduction once automated braking kicks in — the better the tech and braking action, the higher the score.

Analyzing the Findings for Compact SUVs

So, out of the cars tested, did any meet the IIHS requirements?

Just one excelled as the top safety pick: the Subaru Forester, which earned the highest IIHS Good rating by avoiding collision at every test speed. It successfully avoided hitting the motorcycle target at both 31 and 37 mph, also slowing by an average of 30 mph before hitting the motorcycle in the 43 mph test scenarios. Engineers confirmed that the car’s forward-collision alerts were proactive in all circumstances, including with the semitrailer.

The next best vehicle in terms of safety scores was the Honda CR-V. It achieved an Acceptable rating from the organization, with testers noting that it had timely forward-collision alerts and aggressive braking performance in all tests with passenger cars and most of the motorcycle tests. At speeds of 43 mph, however, it failed to slow consistently for the motorcycle target. The Toyota RAV4 also achieved an Acceptable rating for displaying a similar (but not quite as good) performance.

Further down on the list, the midsize Ford Escape, Hyundai Tucson, and Jeep Compass only received a Marginal rating from the IIHS, for the most part, due to forward collision warnings. Out of the three, the Ford Escape was technically rated highest as it managed to avoid hitting passenger vehicle and motorcycle targets at up to 31 mph and slowed significantly in higher speed tests.

At the very bottom of the list, the Chevrolet Equinox, Mazda CX-5, Mitsubishi Outlander, and Volkswagen Taos all received a lowly Poor rating. None of the vehicles could accurately identify motorcycle targets, and their automated braking systems didn’t slow significantly enough in crash scenarios. In particular, engineers noted that the Chevy Equinox didn’t slow much at all for the motorcycle target.

Factors Contributing to Poor Safety Ratings

Overall, there are a number of factors that contribute to poor safety ratings for a vehicle. Tests currently carried out by the IIHS on automakers include:

Frontal crash test: The IIHS conducts three different frontal crash tests: the moderate overlap front test, the driver-side small overlap front test, and the passenger-side small overlap front test. These effectively test the strength of occupant compartments and whether they maintain their integrity sufficiently for safety belts and airbags to protect the driver and other passengers.

Side crash test: Side crashes account for about a quarter of passenger vehicle occupant deaths in the USA. The side crash test evaluates the strength of the car’s structure when hit by a 4,200-pound barrier at 37 mph, as well as the effectiveness of any side airbags.

Headlight evaluation: About half of all fatal crashes in America occur after dark, so headlights have a crucial role in preventing accidents. For this test, engineers measure the reach of a vehicle’s headlights as it travels straight and on curves. Sensors on the testing track measure how far from the vehicle the light extends with an intensity of at least 5 lux.

Front crash prevention test: With the introduction of crash prediction and auto-braking systems, the IIHS began to measure the effectiveness of a vehicle’s collision prevention abilities. Trials are run at multiple speeds, with simulations including three different vehicle types. Measurements are taken once during the day and once at night, as crash prevention technology is oftentimes not as responsive after dark.

Seat belt reminder evaluation: For those riding in the front of a vehicle, using the lap and shoulder seat belts decreases the risk of fatal injury by 60% in an SUV, van, or pickup and by 45% in a car. The IIHS evaluates the effectiveness of seat belt reminders based on the reminder timing and audible signal for both front and rear seating positions.

LATCH evaluation: Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children (LATCH) is a system of attachment hardware for child restraints. Vehicles are assessed for whether they make LATCH easier to use, which includes how accessible the lower anchors are and how much force is required to attach the lower connector of a child seat.

Implications for Compact SUV Buyers

Of course, with the safety of compact or subcompact SUVs being brought into question, you may be asking what the implications are for you as a buyer. If you don’t yet own a compact SUV but would like to, it’s important to research any vehicles you’re considering thoroughly. Read reviews, check out any specifications (paying particular attention to safety systems), and use the IIHS website to find out the ratings for each model.

If you already own a compact SUV, don’t panic just yet. Check out the IIHS ratings for your vehicle and get to grips with any known issues. You can take these into consideration when driving and alter your habits accordingly. When problems like these are discovered, many manufacturers will issue a recall for the vehicle, offering free upgrades or installs that will rectify the situation. A letter will be sent to your home address if this happens, but you can also contact your dealership to ask if your car has been recalled or search for your model on the NHTSA website.

Extended Warranties and Vehicle Safety

Should your car have a low safety rating, investing in an extended warranty or vehicle service contract from a provider like Endurance can save you hundreds — if not thousands — of dollars on unexpected repair bills. It goes without saying that problem vehicles are much more likely to suffer from defects that result in breakdowns, and without sufficient extended auto protection watching out for you, any components that give up the ghost will be your responsibility financially.

When coverage is the difference between peace of mind and an empty wallet, don’t take the risk. Find a provider you know you can rely on and talk to them about your options. At Endurance Warranty, we have plenty of plans for compact SUV owners, ranging from basic powertrain protection to fully comprehensive. With our Advantage plan in place, you even get up to $3,500 in annual maintenance fees. Get in touch or browse our coverage plans online.

Choosing a Safe Vehicle: Tips for Buyers

When it comes to choosing a safe vehicle, the IIHS is your best friend. Simply search the car you’re considering on their ratings database to see how it scored in each of the six safety tests, with ratings ranging from Good to Poor. Ideally, you’ll be looking for something rated Good or Acceptable in all areas. There’s plenty of more granular information available, but don’t get overwhelmed—the overall rating for each test is what matters most.

Of course, you can also do some more reading on the specific vehicle’s safety specifications. With recent developments in technology, safety systems are becoming more sophisticated and impressive. In theory, the more a vehicle has, the safer you can expect to be while driving it. This won’t always be the case, however, so make sure you double-check the IIHS test ratings before you hand over your hard-earned money.

Whatever Your Vehicle, Protect Yourself with the Best

Even if your new car is the most reliable in the world, the unfortunate reality is that all components fail eventually. When they do, you can bet it will be at the worst possible moment, leaving you stranded at the roadside hundreds of miles from home — and faced with a repair bill you couldn’t possibly afford. To protect themselves (and their wallets) from the ever-rising cost of car ownership, drivers across America are investing in an extended warranty. And Endurance is the country’s most trusted provider.

We’re one of the country’s longest-standing providers, having helped thousands of U.S. drivers each year save serious money on unexpected repair bills. Our eligibility is unrivaled, so whoever you are, whatever you drive, we have an auto protection plan for you. From casual commuters to rideshare drivers and even select luxury SUV owners, we have almost everyone covered – or you can customize your own coverage.

All Endurance Warranty plans come with 24/7 roadside assistance (including towing, fuel delivery, and lockout services), rental car reimbursement, and trip-interruption costs as standard. If that wasn’t enough, every Endurance customer has the opportunity to activate our Elite Benefits package.* This adds on up to four tire repairs or replacements annually, key fob replacement, up to $500 in collision discounts, and up to $1,000 in total loss protection.

In addition, we’re the direct administrator of our plans, so you don’t need to deal with a middleman whenever you need to make a claim. Our award-winning customer service team is available via phone or email whenever you have a question. Plus, the Endurance Mobile app puts all of the most important information in your pocket.

Automotive experts across the web agree that Endurance is the best vehicle service contract provider, but don’t just take their word for it: check out our customer reviews. Then, give us a call at (800) 253-8203 to request a FREE quote for your vehicle. You can also shop online for recommended plans and to see your price now.

If you’d like to do some more reading before you leave, our extended warranty blog has plenty more helpful articles just like this on automakers like Kia, Audi, BMW, and more.

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