It is 6:30 a.m. on a wet, cold Wednesday morning in February. I am searching for a spot in the Green parking garage at Virginia Hospital Center in Arlington. The garage is practically empty that time of morning. But parking is a challenge for the gargantuan 2011 Infiniti QX56 sport-utility vehicle I am driving. It stretches 17.4 feet long, stands 6.3 feet tall, and weighs 5,599 pounds without passengers or cargo.
Unwisely, I choose a parking section frequently used by nurses and hospital aides working late-night shifts. It is unwise because those nurses and aides work long, often stressful hours — knowledge gained from my several stays as a patient at VHC. They are physically exhausted by the time they get to their vehicles to drive home.
A nurse clad in hospital blues beneath her overcoat climbs into a late-model indigo-blue Toyota Corolla directly in front of my now-parked QX56. She fires the ignition and backs into the lower-left side of my front bumper. Many people would have driven off from something that minor. But she stops, examines my bumper and then checks her car. There isn’t even a scratch on her Corolla. There is what appears to be a small dent on the lower left front bumper of the mighty QX56.
The nurse apologizes. I tell her to forget it. She was not hurt. I was okay. There was no damage to her Corolla. I should not have parked in that spot. There appeared to be little damage to the QX56 in a “collision” that was barely 3 mph. I told her to go home and get some rest, and I vowed to pay for any damage. I figured, at most, it would cost me $500.
I was wrong.
I reported the accident to the appropriate Nissan/Infiniti agents. I told them to send me a bill. They did — an invoice from Tommy’s Collision Center in Bowie. Total repair cost for the QX56 was $2,645.95, including $158 for “miscellaneous” and $115.15 in state and local taxes.
That’s nearly $3,000 in repair costs for a big, tough QX56 SUV being struck by a compact Corolla in a “collision” of barely 3 mph.
It’s ridiculous. There are zero repair costs for the little Corolla sedan, but there is a nearly $3,000 repair tab for the mighty QX56 SUV?
Don’t blame the people at Tommy’s Collision Center. Blame Infiniti. In fact, blame the automobile industry for arguing for and getting lower federal bumper collision standards in 1983.
A primer: Rear and front bumpers, now mostly vinyl sheathing over a metal shock-absorbing bar, are meant to protect vehicles from major body damage in minor crashes. In 1971, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, over the vehement objections of the automobile industry, established a protection standard of 5 mph for the front bumper and 2.5 mph for the rear bumper. That standard later was strengthened to 5 mph for front and rear bumpers.
The automobile industry petitioned for redress and got it, over the strong objections of the insurance business, in 1983. The bumper standard was reduced to 2.5 mph for front bumpers and 1.5 mph for the rear set.
That was bad enough. But the automobile industry also managed to get around an insurance industry demand for use of less-expensive “in-kind” — as opposed to original equipment — repair parts. The car people did it by integrating previously stand-alone components into complete modules. Thus, what Tommy’s Collision Center called a “smudge” on the lens of the Q56’s $1,000-plus high-intensity-discharge headlamp could not be “fixed” unless the entire, still completely functional, headlamp was replaced at original-equipment cost.
I now understand why the people at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and the Highway Loss Data Institute have long fought for tougher bumper standards and the use of perfectly acceptable in-kind repair parts. Lower bumper standards and the use of unnecessarily expensive original equipment parts cost the consumer, which means it costs the insurers that usually pay the bill.
As it turns out, the Nissan/Infiniti agents paid Tommy’s Collision Center before I could present my Visa card. But I’d be more than willing to send Nissan/Infiniti a certified check for $3,000 if it would join Toyota and the estimated 35 percent of other car companies in adhering to a tougher bumper standard of 5 mph front and rear.
Failing that, here’s calling for a loud, strong consumer demand that all car companies, no exceptions, be made to adhere to a 5-mph bumper standard front and rear. Too many of us are paying through the nose for less.