Car Bumpers Disappoint

You'd expect low-speed collisions to inflict minor damage on a vehicle. But a recent test found that accidents at speeds as low as 3mph --about 5 kiilometres per hour --can cause thousands of dollars in damage.

The US Insurance Institute for Highway Safety tested 20 small car models to assess how well their bumpers would protect the vehicles from damage in low-speed collisions.

The worst performer was the Hyundai Elantra: a 6 MPH, or about 10 kilometres per hour -- crash caused nearly $5,000 US in damage, about a third of the cost of the vehicle.

Also rated "poor" for low speed crash performance are the Toyota Prius and Volkswagen Rabbit. Each sustained about $4,000 damage in a single test.

The best was the Ford Focus. A front end collision cost only $588 -1/10 the damage on the Elantra!

The point of small cars is they are supposed to be economical but there is nothing economical about thousands of dollars spent on repairs and you can bet ICBC knows that and it makes your insurance premiums higher.

To illustrate how small changes to bumper design can make a significant difference in repair costs, the institute worked with Tech-Cor, the research division of Allstate Insurance, to modify the front bumper of the Prius.

The reinforcement bar and foam absorber were extended another 10 inches --25 centimetres-- on the passenger side under the headlight. When the Institute tested the Prius again, the headlight and fender were undamaged and the repair cost dropped from $1200 to $250.

In June the Canadian government harmonized the bumpers between Canada and the rest of the world so design and manufacturing costs can be reduced for Canadian manufacturers.

It wouldn't take much for automakers to reduce the cost of repairing the damage that occurs in low-speed collisions. The IIHS has three recommendations.

Make the bumper bars longer so they protect headlights and other critical and costly equipment at the corners of vehicles.

Make bumpers taller so they engage the bumpers on higher riding SUVs and pickup trucks instead of under-riding them, even during emergency braking.

Don't sacrifice function for style by mounting bumpers too close to the car body. This makes for a sleek look, but it doesn't leave much room for absorbing crash energy.

And remember it is you who pays in the end.

Tire Danger

As many as 30 million tires on North American roads are at risk of blowing out. That can cause a serious, even fatal accident. The problem potentially faulty tire valves.

Robert Monk was killed last November when his right rear tire failed, triggering a rollover crash. The cause of the accident - a lawsuit alleges - was a cracked tire valve. One distributor has issued a recall of six models.

"If you've replaced new tires since 2006, there's a chance that your tire valves are affected by the recall," said Don Mays of Consumer Reports. He checked cars in the staff parking lot and found more than one with a problem.

"This crack leaked air slowly, resulting in a flat tire. But at highway speeds, you could have sudden air loss, and that can be a serious problem," explained Mays.

So how can you tell if your tire has one of these valves-- it's not easy?

At a minimum, Consumer Reports says check your tire pressure at least once a month and inspect the valve for any cracks.

Flex the valve out towards the tire and rotate it, looking for any cracks along the stem. A flashlight can be helpful. A good valve has no cracks. A problem valve one has cracks at the base.

"If you do find a crack, go to your mechanic and make sure all four tire-valve stems are replaced, not just the defective one," said Mays

To be certain that your valves haven't been recalled, have a mechanic take the tire off and inspect the valve from the inside. That's the only way to check the model number to see if your valve is part of the recall. The model numbers of the six tire valves involved in the recall are

TR-413, TR-413CH, TR-414, TR-415, TR-418, and TR-423.

An often overlooked part of the tire value assembly is the plastic cap.

If you have a vehicle with a tire pressure monitoring system --you can't just use any old cap. "They are not only different they are all the more important," explained Brian Wilson of Tirecraft in North Vancouver. "They have a seal imbedded deep inside the valve cap."

The caps are gray, not the traditional black. Tire pressure monitoring systems have a sensor inside the tire -- and if water gets in the valve because you didn't have a cap -- it could be ruined.

"The sensors themselves depending on the make of the vehicle can range anywhere from $50 each to $250 each and the valve caps are worth virtually nothing," said Wilson. So use one.

The six valves that have been recalled were distributed in 2006. If you've bought a new car or had your tires replaced since then, it's even more important to inspect those valves.

For more information, check this website: Crack inspection procedures.

With a report by CTV British Columbia's Chris Olsen