Fender-benders cost luxury car owners plenty

ByKen Thomas, Associated Press

WASHINGTON -- Buying an expensive car can bring an owner style, prestige and repair bills in the thousands of dollars to fix damage caused by minor fender-benders.

Repairing damage to luxury vehicles involved in crashes of 3 to 6 miles per hour, which typically happen in commuter traffic or parking lots, can cost significantly more than for other cars, according to data released Thursday by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

Many bumpers are flimsy, leading to damage to the grill, hood and headlights, the institute says.

"There shouldn't be much or any damage in collisions at these speeds, especially to expensive and presumably well-made cars," said Joe Nolan, a senior vice president at the Institute.

The institute conducted four low-speed crashes on 11 2007 luxury vehicles. It found the Infiniti G35, which starts at $31,450, had the highest repair bill, at nearly $14,000 in combined damages for the four tests. In one test involving the front end, the G35's bill was more than $5,000.

The Acura TL and Mercedes C Class racked up more than $11,000 in repairs for the four tests while the tab for the Lexus ES nearly topped $11,000. Damage to the Lexus IS cost more than $9,500.

Only three vehicles sustained less than $6,000 in damage: the Saab 9-3, Audi A4 and Lincoln MKZ. Other damage estimates included $8,224 for the Volvo S60, $7,554 for the Acura TSX and $6,681 for the BMW 3 Series.

The tests focused on repair costs, not safety. Serious injuries are uncommon in low-speed crashes.

Automakers said it was hard for the tests to replicate the low-speed crashes that typically occur on the road.

Nissan Motor spokeswoman Jeannine Ginivan said it was "highly unlikely that anyone would be simultaneously involved in the four low-speed crash modes under real-world conditions." Infiniti is Nissan's luxury brand.

Mercedes-Benz spokesman Rob Moran said the results did not reflect the automaker's "holistic approach to occupant safety. This philosophy influences vehicle design and development even down to the front bumper."

Acura, the luxury brand of Honda, said the TL and TSX sedans are "designed to perform well in real-world situations, and are not limited to specific laboratory tests of bumper performance."

Bumpers are designed to absorb the energy of a low-speed collision and prevent damage to a car's front end. But the tests found that many of the vehicles would slide under the bumpers of the vehicles they strike, causing extensive damage.

In other cases, the institute found the bumpers were flimsy or weren't large enough or didn't extend out to the vehicle's corners far enough to protect it.

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