How safe are the new generation of pickup trucks?

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The picture above shows the 2014 Chevy Silverado and demonstrates GM’s commitment to keep up with Ford. See review:

GM is also upgrading the Sierra full-size pickup, hoping to build on total truck sales in 2012 of about 575,000 vehicles. Why do GM need to up its game? Because last year, Ford sold about 645,000 F-Series trucks. For a review of the Platinum F250 Superduty:

Why do both manufacturers care about this section of the market? There are two reasons. Let’s start with the profit margin. They make about $10,000 profit on every vehicle sold. Just pause to consider that figure a moment. That’s a big markup, isn’t it! Even when you add in all the fancy new pieces of kit now offered as standard or as options, the profit margin is high. The second reason is the economy. The housing market is beginning to show real signs of recovery and more jobs are being created. This is not to say the US economy is well on the road to complete recovery. But it has stopped dropping off the cliff and may start making more positive moves towards recovery through 2013. As a sign of this, Ford sold 68,000 F-Series in June. GM dealers reported May truck sales at 59,000. The estimate for June is 60,000. As the 2014 models come on to sales lots, you can expect pent-up demand to push sales figures higher.

How safe are pickup trucks?

The Federal Government has given the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration the job of crash and rollover testing every make and model of vehicle offered for sale in America. See crash test for Silverado:

and test for the Ford F-250:

Because of the number of different models actually produced, it not always possible to test every one but the NHTSA does make a point of testing every new or significantly redesigned model when it first appears. The results are given as a star rating from 1 through 5. This means there are results for both the four-wheel and rear-wheel drive three-quarter ton pickup trucks.

Four-wheel drive

Model Overall crash rating Overall side impact rating Rollover rating
Chevy Silverado 2500 ✪✪ ✪✪✪✪ ✪✪✪✪
Ford F-250 ✪✪✪✪✪ ✪✪✪✪✪ ✪✪✪
GMC Sierra 2500 ✪✪ ✪✪✪✪ ✪✪✪✪

Two-wheel drive

Model Overall crash rating Overall side impact rating Rollover rating
Chevy Silverado 2500 ✪✪ ✪✪✪✪ ✪✪✪
Ford F-250 ✪✪✪✪✪ ✪✪✪✪✪ ✪✪✪✪
GMC Sierra 2500 ✪✪ ✪✪ ✪✪✪

As you can see, the Ford F-250 has a significantly better safety performance in the ratings.

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However, star ratings on their own do not tell the full story. For that, you need a little more detail. First, the advantages of this type of vehicle.

When you’re driving three-quarter-ton vehicles, there’s a lot of metal around you as protection should there be a crash. Pickup trucks are also quite high. So if you get into a collision with a smaller lighter vehicle, the odds are you will do better in your truck. Indeed, trucks quite often ride over lower vehicles. This is dangerous to the passengers in the other vehicles. It’s far better if there’s a consistency of heights between vehicles and their crumple zones match. So if you can live with the thought the reason why you’re more likely to survive a crash with a car is because the smaller vehicle will collapse to absorb the impact, buy a truck.

But there are serious disadvantages. Because of the weight, trucks build up momentum so they take longer to stop. Avoiding collisions is not always possible even with the more powerful brakes fitted to trucks. Every truck should have four-wheel anti-lock brakes with brake-force distribution to keep the truck more level when slowing rapidly. This is particularly important if the truck is a working vehicle and you have a heavy load in the cargo bed or you are towing something heavy. The combination of weight and size makes these vehicles more difficult to control. A small car is nimble on the road. You can often avoid a collision just by swerving round an obstruction. With a higher center of gravity, trucks are more likely to rollover if you swerve suddenly.

chevrolet-colorado

In 2010, rollovers were the cause of 46% of the deaths in trucks. The problem is there’s more weight to roll on top of the driver and passengers. Fitting electronic stability systems into trucks is making them safer but there’s still a lot of work to be done to improve safety design, say by strengthening the roof. To some extent, the four-wheel drive versions make trucks safer because there’s a more even grip on the road which is good in rain and winter conditions. But the NHTSA shows some four-wheel vehicles are more likely to rollover because they are designed to ride higher on the suspension. Of course, the reason why more people may die in four-wheel rollovers is because more are driven off-road where there may be unexpected slopes to navigate. Finally, in side impact tests, some top-heavy vehicles just fall over:

As final thoughts on car safety design, conventional airbags are only fitted as standard for the driver and front passenger. Airbags to protect against side impact are not generally fitted as standard. Of course, this reflects the hight of the vehicles. Being hit by a smaller vehicle is not going to put passengers at risk. You just have to hope your not going to be hit by another truck. Then there’s a question about children. It goes without saying that no one should be allowed to ride in the cargo bed. Thirty states have laws prohibiting carrying children in the bed. The problem with pickups is that many don’t have back seats, and it’s difficult to fit child-safety seats, even in crew or extended cabs. Moving up in age, many young drivers now see trucks as cool to drive. This is boosting the accident statistics for trucks as teens think they can drive through problems. If only teens were immortal.

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