The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) spends about $4 million each year to purchase upwards of 85 brand-new vehicles — with the sole mission of destroying each one.
Despite the mechanical carnage nobody is complaining, because the private agency rates each vehicle’s crash performance and then publishes the information for the public on its website. All told, the IIHS keeps very scientific crash records on about 190 vehicles, which includes models that have carryover body styles from previous years.
In December the IIHS released its most recent list of Top Safety Picks – the highest performing vehicles in its testing. This was great news for consumers who purchase cars that have been tested, but what about those vehicles that never seem to make the IIHS’s list? Why doesn’t the agency crash all cars?
The IIHS told AutoWeb that it places its priority on popular sellers. “We try to choose vehicle groups that are the heart of the new vehicle market in the U.S.; the kinds of vehicles that most people buy,” said IIHS senior vice president of communications Russ Rader. The Institute does not, however, test full-size SUVs, sports cars, or high-end luxury cars. The sports cars and luxury cars are niche vehicles that cost too much and represent a very small percentage of the market.
The full-size SUVs are another story. Even though they aren’t tested, the IIHS views them as safe. “The size and weight of a vehicle is a significant factor in how well you are protected in a crash. Full-size SUVs already start with a high level of safety,” said Rader.
While the sheer size of full-size SUVs makes them safer than many smaller vehicles, rollover crashes are still a concern. Rader notes, however, that rollover crashes have become less of an issue since electronic stability control was mandated in all vehicles starting in 2012. (For rollover ratings, consumers can look to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration crash ratings at safercar.gov.)
Despite these baseline policies, the IIHS does test some high-end cars and full-size SUVs, based on the request of automakers, but the agency doesn’t pay for these tests — the automakers foot the bill. (Two recent examples include the Maserati Ghibli, a luxury sedan, and the Audi Q7, a full-size SUV.)
Remember, the exclusion of your vehicle from the IIHS Top Safety Pick list does not mean it is unsafe – it only means that the agency has not tested it.