Small Overlap Test Switches Sides for Certain Cars

Small Overlap Test Switches Sides for Certain Cars

Manufacturers are catching up with the small overlap test that tanked ratings for so many vehicles in 2012, but that success might be short-lived.

Although most manufacturers are building vehicles to pass the test from the ground-up, some are using patchwork solutions. The IIHS says some manufacturers are putting extra parts or reinforced materials on the left side of the vehicle only. The left side is the side always used in crash testing and although there may be other reasons for those parts to be there, the Institute is suspicious that some manufacturers are taking an easy way out to improve the a vehicle’s crash test rating. Starting later this year, a select number of vehicles will go through small overlap testing with a crash targeting the right side instead of the left.


The small overlap test, which began in 2012, makes contact with 25 percent of a vehicle’s front surface area compared to 40 percent with the moderate overlap test. Few vehicles performed well during initial testing because the crash, which mimics the driver hitting a pole or glancing off another vehicle, misses the main body structure on many vehicles.

The hope of any manufacturer is that its products will score well and earn a Top Safety Pick rating. Since the small overlap test was introduced, it was possible to achieve the Top Safety Pick even with an acceptable score in that test. That’s changing for 2016. Like every other test result, a vehicle must score a “Good” rating in the small overlap test to achieve a top safety pick rating. While some manufacturers, like Subaru, already achieved good ratings in the small overlap testing, many others are scrambling to strengthen vehicles for re-evaluation this year.

Tests like the 40 percent moderate offset crash testing were designed to mimic real world crashes better than tests did at the time. When first introduced, several vehicles failed this test horribly. Because of the creation of this test, vehicles are now much safer in offset crashes.


Other real world tests that have made substantial improvements also include roof- and side-impact tests. Although the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration also conducts side impact testing, the IIHS test hits closer to where a crossover or SUV bumper would. This means the impact is centered more on the B-pillar and doors than the vehicle’s stronger lower frame.

Why Was the IIHS Created?

The IIHS was created in 1959 by three major insurance associations to improve automotive safety in an effort to reduce deaths and cut down on insurance costs. Not to be confused with the government funded National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), IIHS has always has been an independent organization. NHTSA wasn’t formed until 1970 and is the official regulatory board that sets the rules and guidelines for vehicular safety that must be met by all automobile manufacturers.

Today, the IIHS facility in Charlottesville features a 22,000 square foot crash hall with three runways for front- and side-impact crash testing. There is also an underride truck trailer testing facility as well as various labs focused on things like child safety seats and crash test dummy innovation. Soon, a 210,000 square foot outdoor covered track will be completed for higher speed crash avoidance testing.


Who is Paying For the Cars?

All of the funding for the IIHS comes from insurance companies. The money the organization receives is used to purchase vehicles and perform the various safety tests. IIHS buys most of the vehicles it tests, but some are donated by manufacturers. Although the IIHS does not solicit manufacturers, many offer vehicles for evaluation, especially if a previous model fared poorly and safety updates have been made.

Because of that, the IIHS tested roughly $4 million in vehicles last year on a $2.5 million budget. Even with donated vehicles, IIHS still covers all the costs of performing the tests. And if a vehicle has not been donated and the IIHS purchased it on its own, engineers from the company whose car is being evaluated are still invited to witness the testing.

They Don’t Build ‘Em Like They Used To

Thanks to organizations like the IIHS, cars are much safer than they used to be. To quote a cliché, “they don’t built ‘em like they used to.” As it turns out, that’s a very good thing.