Full-size pickup trucks, some might argue, have squared up the past few years. The competition is tight, and they’re ever closer in profile, appearance, and size, and hauling ability.
Yet safety is proving to be an important differentiating factor. There are some very different body structures and materials underneath, from brand to brand, and as new testing from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) reveals, there’s an especially wide range in occupant protection across models — even within the same model line — in several key factors that matter for those inside.
One of those is the IIHS small overlap frontal crash test, which gauges how well the passenger call is preserved in one particularly deadly type of frontal crash; the other is the roof strength test, a key result related to survivability in a rollover. The IIHS tested multiple cab configurations where possible, in tests that included the Ram 1500, Toyota Tundra, Chevrolet Silverado 1500, GMC Sierra 1500, and Ford F-150.
And among all of those, the 2016 Ford F-150 SuperCab was the only model to achieve a top “good” rating for small overlap. Ford has made some structural changes to the 2016 SuperCab models to upgrade that performance from “marginal” to “good.” And now it’s the only full-size truck to earn the IIHS Top Safety Pick designation.
Crew cabs not holding together as well
Two other models, the Chevrolet Silverado 1500 Double Cab and Toyota Tundra Double Cab, earned “acceptable” ratings for small overlap, yet the Crew Cab (CrewMax for Tundra) versions of these models only earned a “marginal” rating, with more intrusion into the cabin that could lead to driver injuries.
In the IIHS tests, the worst-performing trucks were the 2016 Ram 1500 Crew Cab and the Ram 1500 Quad Cab. Both earned just a “marginal” overall rating and a “poor” structural rating, reaching levels of cabin intrusion so severe that lower leg, ankle, and foot injuries would be likely, and the driver would likely be entrapped, needing help to free his or her feet from the wreck.
The IIHS notes that otherwise, all of these large-pickup models earn top ratings for moderate front impact, side impact, and rear (head restraint) tests. Yet the Ram 1500 models also don’t do well in the IIHS roof strength test, a measure of how well the roof will stay intact in a rollover. Ram has had since 2009, when the roof strength test was launched, to improve these models’ performance.
Full-size trucks already at a rollover disadvantage
While the sheer size and heft of a full-size pickup might seem a safe bet to you — and you’d be right in assuming they hold an advantage in multi-vehicle accidents with smaller vehicles — pickups remain more likely to roll over in accidents. That’s one of the reasons they have higher chances of fatalities; but their drivers are typically worse about buckling up; 44 percent of occupant deaths in pickups are in rollovers.
The body-on-frame layout of these large pickups definitely presents some additional challenges for engineers, as the frame rails, specially configured for towing and hauling heavy loads, limit the crumple zones and force paths for the passenger cell. There are more full-size truck tests and ratings on the way. The IIHS will test the redesigned 2016 Nissan Titan lineup this year, as well as the upcoming 2017 Honda Ridgeline.