The Price of Saaaaaafety

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One of the very real negatives of modern car design is that even very minor impacts can cause major damage to the car.

Hit something in a late-model car at 10-20 MPH – a speed unlikely to result in serious physical injuries to the occupants – and you can expect to be replacing the entire front clip, hood and supporting structures underneath.These are of course designed to “crumple” – as you’ve probably heard. To this end, the front and rear “bumpers” of a modern car are typically just thin plastic covers, easily ripped/torn and ruined beyond fixing. Underneath these are structuresengineered to collapse.

Hoods are made of almost tissue-thin metal that a reasonably strong man could probably bend in half by hand.

Headlight “assemblies” are made of fragile plastic and often jut out from the car. They are very vulnerable to being damaged irreparably by such things as a runaway shopping cart – and can (and often do) cost a shocking amount to replace.

I’d rather have a car that can take a minor hit without incurring major damage.

Like my 1976 Pontiac.

It does have a plastic-covered nose. But underneath is a battering ram of a bumper designed not to “crumple.” Instead, it transmits the force of 4,000 pounds of Pontiac to objects in its path. A Civic would not fare well in an encounter with the TA. In a minor impact between the two, my car would probably not even have visible damage. But the damage to the Civic – or any of its modern kin – would likely be considerable. And not just Civics. My car would inflict thousands of dollars in cosmetic damage to an S-Class Benz, too. Its driver would not notice, of course – until he stepped out to swap insurance info. I would not be surprised to learn that the headlight assemblies for a 2014 S-Class cost $500 apiece.

Maybe more.

The doors in a car like my mid-70s Pontiac must weigh at least 100 pounds each. The hood is a massive slab of metal held up by a pair of industrial-gauge steel-coiled hinges.

Prop rods? Forget about it!

Now, granted, if I am ever in a major wreck in the Trans-Am, I am probably more likely to be more severely hurt than I would be if I had the same wreck while driving a modern, crumple-zoned car designed to take the hit in my stead. But most wrecks are not major. Mostly, they are of the fender-bender type. Only nowadays, more than just the fenders tend to get bent.

This one of the main reasons why insurance costs have skyrocketed – even as highway fatalities have decreased. Yes, cars are safer. But they also cost a helluva lot more to fix when damaged. And they are much more easily damaged, as a result of making them safer.

There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch. But, people forget.

Until, of course, they are presented with the bill.

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