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Personal Finance > Autos
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Two popular SUVs fail tests
graphic November 29, 2001: 1:48 p.m. ET

Ford Explorer, Jeep Liberty fare worst in low-speed crash tests, group says.
By Julie Vallese
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    WASHINGTON (CNN) - Two of the nation's most popular sport/utility vehicles failed a low-speed bumper crash test, but the agency testing the vehicles praised two other SUVs and a pickup truck for their improved performance.

    The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety tested the Dodge Ram 1500, Chevrolet TrailBlazer, Ford Explorer and Jeep Liberty in low-speed crash tests designed to simulate fender benders or low-impact collisions. The Explorer, made by Ford Motor Co. (F: up $0.33 to $18.24, Research, Estimates), and Jeep Liberty, made by DaimlerChrysler AG (DCX: down $0.63 to $41.13, Research, Estimates), were the worst performers.

    "The Liberty's bumpers simply don't work," the institute's chief operating officer, Adrian Lund, said. "More encouraging are the bumpers on the new TrailBlazer SUV, which improved dramatically, and the bumpers on the Ram 1500 pickup, which improved the most among the vehicles we tested this time around."

    Chevy's Trailblazer is a General Motors Corp. (GM: up $1.05 to $48.65, Research, Estimates) product and the Dodge Ram is made by DaimlerChrysler.

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    The 2002 Ford Explorer received a poor rating in the latest low-speed crash test.
    The tests estimate how much it will cost to repair a vehicle involved in a low-speed crash. They do not assess the safety of the vehicle. The institute, which is supported in part by insurance companies, conducts high-speed tests to assess safety.

    The Chevrolet TrailBlazer tested the best of the vehicles, earning an acceptable rating. The bumpers were improved significantly from its predecessor, the Chevy Blazer, the testers said. The total damage sustained in the low-speed Blazer crash was estimated at $2,455.

    "It isn't a bad showing, given that the pole impact is the most demanding bumper test we conduct," Lund said. "All of the damage to the TrailBlazer was confined to the bumper, without any damage to the vehicle body."

    The institute conducts four low-speed crash tests to assess damage costs: running the front and the rear of a vehicle into a flat barrier, as well as the front into an angled barrier and the rear into a pole.

    The Dodge Ram tested the best of any large pickup truck and was given a rating of marginal. It sustained less than half the damage cost of its predecessor, the 2001 Ram 1500. Damage to the Ram totaled a little over $3,800 and all damage was confined to the bumper.

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    "The Ram used to have the worst bumpers among the large pickup trucks the institute tested, but now it has the best bumpers," Lund said. But the amount of damage still was high for this type of vehicle, he added.

    Both the Ford Explorer and the Jeep Liberty earned a poor rating. Each vehicle sustained an estimated $5,500 worth of damage.

    In one test, the Explorer sustained damage to the right fender that couldn't be repaired, hood damage, a broken headlight and underlying frame rail deformation, which the institute called "extensive bumper system damage."

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    "It's disappointing because the 2002 Explorer is a whole new design. Ford had every opportunity to design the bumpers to do a better job of reducing damage," Lund said.

    The spare wheel and tire mount proved problematic for the Jeep Liberty. The rear window shattered in one test, with the vehicle sustaining $1,700 worth of damage in that rear-flat barrier test alone.

    The institute hopes the test results will prompt consumers to buy safer vehicles. graphic

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