Small car vs. suv in a crash - how does my family fare?

We live in Alaska and have historically owned all or 4 wheel drives - which have been SUVs or cross overs. If I do buy a smaller car (all-wheel recommendations anyone?) what injuries will we sustain in a highway crash with an SUV? can force = mc^2 be overcome with airbags?

I read recently that small CUVs (Forester, CRV, Rav4, etc) have very low accident claim rates, so that might be a way to go. And yes, side airbags help a lot.

Engineers don’t overcome the laws of physics. Engineers use the laws of physics to solve problems.

Airbags don’t overcome the patent clerk’s work. Airbags only change the way the energy (the inertia of your moving body) is dissipated.

It’s impossible to tell what injuries you’d sustain. However I can definitively say that with today’s crush zones, sideguard door beams, seatbelts, head restraints, airbags, padded dashboards, collapsable steering columns, collapsable steering wheels, safety glass, unibody designs, etc., you’ll sustain far, far less injury in a new smaller car than you would in an old smaller car.

Big vehicles usually win. But the margin isn’t nearly as great as it was years ago. My first car, my 1961 VW Beetle, would not “cut the mustard” today.

Buy what you like and drive carefully. The only truely safe accident is the one that never happened.

Visit your local Subaru dealer. They have a selection of AWD vehicles, all with great safety ratings, one of which will suit your needs.

The Subaru AWD system is highly sophisticated, and will provide traction and motive power when others will not.

Are you buying a car to drive or to crash? Stop worrying about a highway crash. There is no way to predict the outcome of such things. Mass is mass, and there’s no substitute, but if you want a lot of mass you must be prepared to pay for the fuel required to move it around.

I’ll take a car over an SUV or crossover any time.

I’ll second the Subaru, we just got an '07 Forester, safety a major criteria. Turns out to be a fun, roomy (I’m 6’5") car!

The Big problem is if the SUV is significantly higher off the ground then the smaller car. Then the large SUV could ride over top of the small cars safety structure, and door beams.

If you are in a collison with a real body on frame SUV, chances are that that you’ll end up in much worse shape than the occupants of the larger vehicle. I don’t know why someone would bother getting a unibody SUV/glorified station wagon. You give up too much capability,durability, and simpliciy IMO. And yes I know that the (Grand) Cherokee is unibody, there’s a reason you don’t see them on the trails much.

I recommend a Volvo XC70. It has AWD and is probably one of the safest vehicles you can find.

I would like to add something about safety. Yes, a heavier vehicle will protect its occupants in a collision with a lighter vehicle. However, the lighter vehicle with a lower center of gravity will be easier to maneuver and will be less likely to roll over. These features will help you avoid a collision. Personally, I would rather avoid a collision than increase my likelihood of saving myself at someone else’s expense.

Well all else being equal, you are better off (on average) with a larger car. All else is seldom equal.

How about buying a Semi? It will likely be safer.

The real question is “Is there a meaningful difference in safety” I would suggest that the answer to that is no.

It is easy to find an actural accident that has the larger vehicle come off worse or the smaller vehicle come off worse.

Now for the most important part of the safety issue. My money would always be on the car driven by the more careful more skillful driver no matter what car they are driving. A driver who knows how to drive safely, never takes chances, never drives after drinking (even a little) and is willing to stay home when the weather gets bad enough, is far safer than other drivers no matter what they drive. It is the nut behind the wheel that is the most important safety feature!

In a high-profile vehicular homicide case currently being prosecuted in NJ, the facts are as follows:

A father and his two children were riding in their large, heavy Dodge Durango SUV, a “real body on frame design”. They were hit broadside by a young guy driving a Cadillac Catera, a small-medium size car of unibody design. The father driving the Durango suffered critical injuries, some of which have proven to be permanent. His daughter was killed by the impact. His son was only slightly injured. The young man who drove the Catera did not suffer any severe injuries in the crash, which was apparently caused by his use of a cell phone and the resultant inattention that led him to go through a red light and strike the Durango.

Every vehicular accident is somewhat different, and because of this, even the best laboratory-controlled crash tests are not fully indicative of what will happen during and after impact. As Mr. Meehan correctly stated, one of the most important safety factors is the behavior of the driver, but as we can see in the above-referenced case, the father of the Dodge Durango–who was apparently not doing anything unsafe–was victimized, along with his family. There appears to have been nothing that this father could have done to prevent the impact that they were subjected to.

So, there is no way to obtain absolute passenger protection for your family, simply because it is not possible to eliminate the hazards imposed by other drivers who are doing dangerous things. The best that anyone can do is to purchase a vehicle that has the best possible passenger protection ratings and to operate it in a safe, sane, defensive manner–even though neither of these things amounts to a panacea, either singly or in combination.

And, as shown by the case cited above, having a body-on-frame vehicle will not necessarily provide one with adequate protection, even when hit by a significantly smaller vehicle. In this case, the passenger in the smaller and lighter unibody vehicle fared far better than those in the larger, heavier, body-on-frame vehicle, thus proving that there are no absolutes.

True, To Some Extent …
(… or I’ll tell you where you can put those “clown cars!”)

I live in a small town (10,000 population for entire large county). My wife and I are careful “silled” drivers, I believe. During the past 3 decades we have made long daily commutes, sometimes in freezing rain and blizzard conditions, that’s how it works here if you want to stay employed. During the past several decades we have not had a chargeable accident or run off the road, nor have we been “stuck.”

We have totalled 3 cars by being stopped and struck from behind. I’ll give an example. The last total, I was driving. Approaching a draw bridge on a two lane road in town, in clear, sunny, dry conditions, I saw the light ahead turn yellow and then red as the bridge was opening. I had my 2 children in the car and made a normal stop. I noticed in my mirror that the car coming from behind was not slowing, the driver turned sideways talking to what turned out to be her mother. I had nowhere to go. She hit us and pushed us into a Suburban with a big trailer hitch sticking out the back. We were not seriosly hurt and in talking with the driver learned that she had done this before. She was not a careful and skillful driver.

You could fabricate a story as to how this was my fault, I shouldn’t have been there, or how she shouldn’t have been on the road, etc. The other 2 totals were very similar to this one. Am I unlucky? Perhaps. I can’t do anything about that except quitting my job and staying home. Thank goodness I didn’t have my family in a “clown car,” as I call them.

I used to drive small cars and motorcycles, but that was before the kids were born.
We drive large American Iron and that’s just how I roll! I’m trying to keep these other jerks (stupid blokes)from killing us.

America, what a country!

That is more then exception than the rule. Anf if he was broadsided, it wouldn’t matter what he was driving. I still maintain that in a head on collison involving a full sized SUV and an averaged sized car. The people in the SUV will have the advantage.

You could fabricate a story as to how this was my fault…

I would love to see someone try.

Bigger always wins. Period.

The crash ratings consider what would happen if a car met an identical car. There is no gauge for size in those tests. If you look at class safety ratings, you will see that medical payouts drop as the class size increases:

The results are obvious.

Exactly, JT!

My major insurance company agrees with this. This is why some of the small cars (clown cars) appear to be fairly safe in crash tests, when in the real world they are not!

General trends, yes, but some exceptions. There are several small SUVs that do well, Forester among them.

Sorta, but not really.

Look at the triplets: Ford Escape, Mazda Tribute, and Mercury Mariner. If you just look at medical payment for the 4WD Mariner, everything is rosy. But the 2WD Mariner rate 111, the Escape 2WD 101, the Escape 4WD 83, the 2WD Tribute 195, and the 4WD Tribute 82. There’s more to it than the truck. The driver community for that particular truck is very important, too. I think that’s why the 4WD triplets are better than the 2WD triplets. That may well be the case with the Forester. Do you really think a Forester would fare well against an Excursion?

Who Drives Buicks?

Driver community must be the reason that when I check with my insurer, Buicks are usually lower cost to insure than other similar makes.