SUV fender-benders lead to big repair bills

WASHINGTON — A minor fender-bender in a sport-utility vehicle can lead to expensive repair bills, the insurance industry has found in new crash tests.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety estimated Wednesday that repairing damages to SUVs — and passenger cars involved in low-speed crashes with SUVs — could cost anywhere from about $3,000 for two vehicles to nearly $10,000. The tests were conducted at 10 miles per hour and meant to simulate crashes in bumper-to-bumper traffic involving pairs of small cars and small SUVs from the same automaker.

A Toyota Corolla compact striking the rear of a Toyota RAV4 small SUV incurred more than $6,000 in damage to the RAV4 and nearly $4,000 in repairs for the Corolla.

On the less expensive end, a Hyundai Tucson SUV hitting a Kia Forte cost $850 to fix the Tucson. A crash simulating a Honda CR-V SUV into a Honda Civic caused nearly $3,000 in total damage for the two vehicles.

SUVs tend to ride higher off the ground compared with passenger cars, meaning cars can sustain damage to hoods, headlights, engine cooling systems and fenders in low-speed crashes with SUVs. But institute staff said the damages could be minimized by changes to federal regulations.

The government requires all cars to have bumpers that protect an area of 16 to 20 inches from the ground. But the bumper rules do not apply to SUVs, pickups or minivans, making SUV bumpers a few inches higher than those on cars.

"SUVs and cars share the road. The problem is they don't share the same bumper rules, and consumers end up paying the price," said Joe Nolan, the institute's chief administration officer.

The institute petitioned the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in July 2009 to have the bumper standards apply to all vehicles, including SUVs and trucks. NHTSA said it would announce its decision on the petition once it completed a review.