How Much Does Size Matter in a Car Crash?

The compact car and SUV segments are among the most active segments in the car market right now. With gas prices fluctuating wildly, the trend is to purchase more fuel efficient vehicles - which usually means smaller vehicles. Additionally, small cars tend to be easier to control, more agile and sporty, and easier to park.

One raging question about compact vehicles is related to their safety. In a smaller car, are you as safe as you would be in a larger vehicle? Are you more likely to be injured or killed in a car crash when compared to the occupants of a larger car or truck? Does size really matter in a car crash?

Bigger is better

If you want a simple answer, then yes, larger vehicles are safer - but size doesn’t make as much of an impact (pun intended) as you may think. Here’s an explanation:

Mass is a factor. Imagine in the sixties and seventies when vehicles were as big as boats. Every vehicle was made with reinforced steel, and the name of the game was to build bigger and stronger. In a collision, the intention was to be the bigger of the involved parties so your vehicle’s weight would keep you safer. If a large car or truck hit a small sedan, it could push the sedan all over the road, affecting the smaller car much more than the larger car. There was a huge space between the front bumper and the cabin, meaning the impact wouldn’t reach the passengers as quickly as it would in a small car.

The same rings true in today’s car market, yet to a much lesser extent. Modern vehicles are all built with safety in mind, including crash standards. Where a truck could have virtually run over a small car in previous decades, now they are mandated to keep their impact point at a relatable height to a small car. Both have crumple zones to absorb some of the collision, and both have airbags and supplemental restraint systems to cushion the blow. Compared to previous generations, small cars have made leaps and bounds in safety.

Mass still factors in, though, because the larger vehicle can still push the smaller car around on the road. That can mean subsequent accidents or injury from other extenuating circumstances, but by and large, the accident itself will be less in favor of the larger vehicle than it used to be.

Vehicle design is influential

If you compare crashes between inequal vehicles from the past decade and the sixties, you’ll find that the injury rates are phenomenally reduced now. Largely, that’s due to vehicle design. There are plenty of systems used today that are meant not only to reduce injury, but also to avoid collisions in the first place.

Crumple zones. Crumple zones are designed into every modern vehicle as a way of saving lives from impact trauma. The theory is that when a vehicle absorbs the energy before it reaches the passenger compartment, the occupants experience less trauma and injury. This theory has been thoroughly tested and holds up to scrutiny.

The frame rails, hood, suspension, firewall, and even the windshield provide structural integrity during normal driving, but on an impact they collapse in a controlled manner to absorb kinetic energy and reduce the effects felt inside the car.

Both small cars and large cars have crumple zones built in now, narrowing the gap between the safety of a large vehicle and a small one.

High-strength materials. Where the focus in older cars was to build parts thick and sturdy, the modern focus is to build lightweight parts that are engineered to be strong and rigid. The use of high-strength materials is paramount to a vehicle’s structural integrity, yet the engineered bracing allows for crumple zones to be designed into the components for protection in an impact.

The same high-strength materials are used in both small vehicles and large ones, again narrowing the disparity in vehicle safety.

Safety systems. A handful of safety components have become almost standard equipment across the board, such as anti-lock brakes (ABS) and traction control. Airbags are standard equipment on all passenger vehicles, as well as seat belts. With the safety components and their usage becoming regulated and enforced, the injuries seen in a collision have been greatly reduced.

With safety systems taken into account, the gap between large vehicle and small vehicle safety is even more narrow.

Vehicle control. Smaller vehicles have an edge over large cars and trucks - in most cases, this advantage is in their handling and control. Small vehicles are typically easier to control with more nimble handling, sporty suspension, and better traction that can greatly assist a small car to avoid a collision in the first place. A larger vehicle will have a much more difficult time changing their direction if a crash is impending than a smaller vehicle.

If you’re looking for a simple answer, larger vehicles are still safer - but the gap is much smaller now compared to the disparity just a few decades ago. The larger mass can still push the smaller mass around, but with similar systems and designs, and the edge in vehicle control going to the small cars, the size of vehicle means less now than it ever has.

Safety is mainly in the driver’s control. Responsible, attentive driving will prevent more collisions and keep occupants safer than relying on your vehicle to keep you safe during an accident.


Next Step

Schedule ABS Light is on Inspection

The most popular service booked by readers of this article is ABS Light is on Inspection. Once the problem has been diagnosed, you will be provided with an upfront quote for the recommended fix and receive $20.00 off as a credit towards the repair. YourMechanic’s technicians bring the dealership to you by performing this job at your home or office 7-days a week between 7AM-9PM. We currently cover over 2,000 cities and have 100k+ 5-star reviews... LEARN MORE

SEE PRICING & SCHEDULING

The statements expressed above are only for informational purposes and should be independently verified. Please see our terms of service for more details

Recent ABS Light is on Inspection reviews

Excellent Rating

(306)

Rating Summary
282
12
2
4
6
282
12
2
4
6

Greg

22 years of experience
333 reviews
Greg
22 years of experience
Nissan NV3500 V8-5.6L - ABS Light is on - Phoenix, Arizona
Greg did a fantastic Job and talk to me through the entire process. He made sure I understood what he was doing and why he was doing it as well as checking over the rest of the vehicle to ensure it works properly.
Jeep Wrangler - ABS Light is on - Scottsdale, Arizona
Greg did a great job. Very knowledgeable and explained what needed to be explained. Gave recommendations on what he thought needed to be done in the future, but never tried to up-sale you like a lot of mechanics do.

Matthew

33 years of experience
1210 reviews
Matthew
33 years of experience
Honda Civic L4-1.3L Hybrid - ABS Light is on - Norfolk, Virginia
Matt has serviced my vehicles including daughter, son, son-in law,and my grand-kids, he has always been able to fix the problems. He hes extended knowledge on all makes and models.and I would recommend everyone give him a chance to fix yours.
Lexus LS430 - ABS Light is on - Williamsburg, Virginia
Matthew showed up on time for our appointment. Talked to me about the problems I was having with my vehicle and what he was going to do to correct the problem. I find Matthew to be very knowledgeable and passionate about working on vehicles. Job was finished in a timely manner and the price was very very reasonable. Overall great job!!!!

James

30 years of experience
873 reviews
James
30 years of experience
Mercedes-Benz GL450 V8-4.7L - ABS Light is on - Oviedo, Florida
So kind, knowledgeable and professional. I appreciate the attention to detail and making things easier to understand
Dodge Ram 1500 - ABS Light is on - Orlando, Florida
Outstanding guy honest...trustworthy and very knowledgeable...great teacher on anything automotive...thanks James

Jermaine

24 years of experience
244 reviews
Jermaine
24 years of experience
Hyundai Elantra L4-2.0L - ABS Light is on Inspection - Hyattsville, Maryland
Jermaine was the absolute best, I'm usually wary about mechanics but he made the whole thing easy and painless. Thank you so much Jermaine.
Honda Fit - ABS Light is on - Beltsville, Maryland
I would refer him over Your Mechanics. Prior to Jermaine’s visit to repair an issue created by my first Your Mechanic. Mechanic, the experience had been horrific. Her wine was prompt, honest, professional and assisted with getting me connected to the warranty department. Truly earned 5 stars

Need Help With Your Car?

Our certified mobile mechanics make house calls in over 2,000 U.S. cities. Fast, free online quotes for your car repair.

GET A QUOTE

Related articles

How to Buy and Sell a Vintage Car
If you are buying (https://www.yourmechanic.com/article/5-essential-things-to-know-when-considering-buying-a-classic-car) and restoring a classic car for your own use, it’s usually considered a labor of love. When you’ve got an emotional connection to the car, the end result is more about how the car makes...
How to Get Out of a Sinking Vehicle
Car Car accidents (https://www.yourmechanic.com/article/how-to-survive-a-car-collision-by-joyce-morse) happen every day. While you might know what to do in a fender bender, what do you do if you end up in a body of water in your vehicle? The heightened tension and danger of...
How to Buy a Classic Cadillac
Cadillacs are the ultimate in luxurious domestic vehicles and have been for more than century. Classic Cadillacs (https://www.yourmechanic.com/article/how-to-buy-a-classic-car-by-cheryl-knight) have been under the General Motors umbrella since 1909 and consistently rank at the top of a list of premier automobiles. Classic...

Related questions

How do I release a locked seat belt?
If you move around in your seat, or try and put on your seat belt too quickly, the belt will sometimes lock. When this happens, you won’t be able to extend your seat belt at all. Releasing a locked seat...
How do I use the panic feature?
The panic feature is an important safety feature in your vehicle. When the panic feature is activated, the horn will sound, and the hazards will flash for 30 seconds, which draws attention to your vehicle if you feel unsafe. To...
Advice on buying a double-clutch Kia Optima
Yes, it is harder for maintenance, and I'm not a fan of those double-clutch systems, especially on a Kia (https://www.yourmechanic.com/scheduled-maintenance/kia-optima/). I'm actually not much of a Kia fan. Kias used to be junky little hollow jumping cars 20-30 years ago....

How can we help?

Our service team is available 7 days a week, Monday - Friday from 6 AM to 5 PM PST, Saturday - Sunday 7 AM - 4 PM PST.

1 (855) 347-2779 · hi@yourmechanic.com