Ford’s revolutionary aluminum-body F-150 pickup truck does well in most crash tests but is significantly more expensive to repair, according to an analysis by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
That means buyers of the truck, the first to use the lighter-weight metal extensively, probably will pay more in out-of-pocket expenses after a crash and might ultimately have higher insurance premiums, the insurance trade group said.
The F-150 has been America’s bestselling vehicle for 33 consecutive years. The company has sold about 400,000, or about 4 percent of the autos sold so far this year.
The institute put the truck through a series of crash tests and found the vehicle’s performance varied, depending on the model.
The F-150 crew cab, which Ford calls the “SuperCrew,” posted “good” ratings for occupant protection in all five of the group’s crash tests. But while doing well in most of the tests, the smaller and lighter extended cab, or “SuperCab,” earned only a marginal rating for occupant protection in a small overlap front crash.
The test evaluates what happens when 25 percent of a vehicle’s front end on the driver’s side strikes a 5-foot-tall rigid barrier at 40 mph, with test dummies onboard. It simulates a wreck in which the front corner hits another car or solid object. Such crashes account for nearly a quarter of frontal crashes involving serious or fatal injury, according to the institute, and have been a difficult safety hurdle for many automakers.
“In a small overlap front crash like this, there’s no question you’d rather be driving the crew cab than the extended cab F-150,” said David Zuby, IIHS chief research officer.
The difference results from how Ford constructs the truck models. It added structural elements to the crew cab’s front frame but didn’t do the same for the extended cab, according to the insurance group.
“That shortchanges buyers who might pick the extended cab thinking it offers the same protection in this type of crash as the crew cab,” Zuby said. “It doesn’t.”
In the test, portions of the extended cab model penetrated the passenger cabin. The toepan, parking brake and brake pedal pushed 10 to 13 inches toward the dummy, and the dashboard was jammed against its lower legs. The steering column was shoved back nearly 8 inches, coming “dangerously close to the dummy’s chest,” the group said. The dummy’s head brushed by the front air bag before sliding off to the left and hitting the instrument panel.
Ford defended the truck’s safety record, noting that it earned the top National Highway Traffic Safety Administration crash-test ratings in all configurations and is the only truck to have received that recognition from the government.
The automaker said it is addressing its poor performance in the small overlap front crash test, noting that the test was adopted as the truck was being designed.
“We addressed the IIHS small overlap front crash in the 2015 F-150 SuperCrew, which accounts for 83 percent of 2015 F-150 retail sales, and are adding countermeasures in the SuperCab and Regular Cab in the 2016 model-year,” said Mike Levine, a Ford spokesman.
Despite the small overlap test failure, the good ratings for the majority of the crash test demonstrate that aluminum trucks are just as safe as those built from steel, according to the insurance group.
“When people think of aluminum, they think of a soda can,” said Russ Rader, a spokesman for IIHS, “but there’s no question that you can make an aluminum-bodied car or truck just as safe as a steel-bodied one.”
Still, while the aluminum truck might be safe, it is considerably more expensive to fix than a steel version, the tests found.