Why didn't we recommend the Chevy Lumina to Brenda? Safety concerns, that's why.

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Mar 01, 1993

Dear Tom and Ray:

My questions is WHAT HAPPENED?! As a loyal reader, I was cruising your column, looking for solutions to all my relatives' car problems. In the question from Brenda, who was looking for a new car, I thought I knew which car you would recommend. Every description of the car she wanted sounded just like a Chevy Lumina to me. I have a four-door 1990 Lumina Eurosport (the "sporty" version), and it is the smoothest, roomiest car I have ever driven. The gas mileage is great (even in the city), and it's not a boat (it's the same length as my husband's Camaro), and it's a dream to park. I'm not a big person, but I could fit at least four of me in the trunk of that car, and at least as many in the back seat. Even my uncle thought it was roomy in the back, and he's NOT small. Admit it guys, you goofed! Or did you rule out the Lumina because it was UNDER Brenda's price range of $25,000-$30,000?

RAY: We didn't goof, Debbi. We like the Lumina, too. But we don't recommend it anymore for two reasons.

TOM: One is that we no longer recommend cars without airbags. It's now 1993, and we don't think Chevrolet has any excuse for NOT having an airbag in its mid-size "family" car. The Accord has an airbag. The Camry has an airbag. The Ford Taurus and Eagle Vision each have two airbags!

RAY: Unfortunately, the federal government allows General Motors to get away with this because of the loose way the federal safety law is worded. Instead of specifically requiring "airbags," federal law says that cars must have "passive restraints." Those are defined as safety systems which don't require the driver to "do" anything to activate them.

TOM: To comply with this law, the more concientious car makers installed airbags, which are the safest and most effective passive restraints.

RAY: The less concientious car makers took advantage of the loop hole and installed motorized seat belts--which are annoying, and not as safe as airbags. Many of these manufacturers have switched to airbags in the last few years as consumers have demanded them.

TOM: But dead last in the "concientious" department in this regard is General Motors, who was even too cheap to put in motorized seat belts! Instead, GM came up with a cockamamie system in which they simply mounted the seat belts to the door frames and called them passive restraints.

RAY: Why is this a lousy system? Well, first of all, it makes it very difficult to get in and out of the car, especially if you're carrying anything. So most people just disconnect the belts.

TOM: Second, if you crash and the door is forced open, you're not belted in anymore! This happened to a New Hampshire state trooper who was killed when he was ejected from his Chevrolet Caprice after the door opened in an accident.

RAY: So Debbi, you won't see us recommending the Lumina (or any GM cars with door mounted seat belts) until they get rid of these useless door mounted seat belts and put in airbags. And as far as we know, they're not planning to do that until some time in 1994.

TOM: But it was nice of you to mention that you can fit four people in the trunk. Perhaps Chevy can use that information to challenge Lincoln for fleet sales to organized crime!

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