Chrysler PT Cruiser Safety

Safety issue with solution

Steph from Florida noted (around 2008): “I love my 2004 PT Cruiser - it's the second one I've owned. But there's nothing under the driver’s seat to prevent anything in the back from rolling under the driver's seat and then under the pedals! Quick stops highlight the problem. I had my nephew in the back with a bottle, and when he dropped it on the floor, it ended up underneath my brake pedal as I was trying to stop. I tried to report this to Chrysler, but none of their phone operators seemed to understand that I was trying to report a problem, not find out about existing recalls. I did report this to NHTSA, but so far, no recalls that I've been notified of. Right now, I'm driving with a towel under the seat to block any stray items.”

Seat belts and airbags

The PT Cruiser was the first DaimlerChrysler vehicle with a three-point center rear belt system (all 2001 Dodge and Chrysler cars have it). The retractor is concealed in the seat back and the webbing exits through a slot at the top of the back.

Tie-down loops for child seat tethers mount on the seat back behind each seating position.

A next-generation driver air bag works with the steering column, telescoping column coupling, and knee bolster to provide restraint in frontal impacts. New technology and unique frontal impact design allows the driver air bag to mount beneath the small, circular steering wheel trim cover and to be more compact. The air bag has a smaller inflated size and is made of lighter material than that of prior DaimlerChrysler vehicles. A cleaner burning pyrotechnic propellant permits elimination of the filter screens used previously to trap particulate matter.

The passenger air bag includes a hybrid inflator that uses a small amount of pyrotechnic propellant to release and heat compressed inert gas stored in a high-pressure cylinder.

Supplemental side air bags were optional (standard with leather seats), at least at launch. The compact side air bag module, for supplemental head and thorax protection, includes a clamshell case that opens during deployment. Each module attaches to a bracket on the outboard side of the front seat frame. It includes a hybrid inflator that uses a small amount of pyrotechnic propellant to release and heat compressed inert gas stored in the pressured cylinder.


A unique traverse beam, which connects the center pillars and ties into the floor pan at the center tunnel, aids side-impact protection. A longitudinal beam in each front door distributes crash energy to the center pillar.

The PT Cruiser structure is also reinforced from front to back - in the doors, along the floor pan "tunnel," in the sills and in the windshield pillars - to dissipate the energy generated in a frontal crash. Chrysler engineers reinforced the front wheel wells so more of the force from a frontal crash is routed through the tires to the sills - and less targets the passenger compartment.

The PT Cruiser 5 mph bumper uses high-strength steel beams and high-density structural foam to protect against visible damage in low-speed collisions.

The forward corners of the shelf panel atop the rear compartment are notched so little hands can reach the buttons that recline the rear seat, so that children cannot be locked in the rear.

Chrysler PT Cruiser crash test ratings

While the PT Cruiser passes all current U.S. and European safety standards, making it safer than most cars only a few years old, there is some weakness in protecting the driver in a frontal impact (based on data from a single car crashing into a solid barrier).

For the side impact, the 2001 Chrysler PT Cruiser was rated four stars for the driver, five for the passenger.

For the frontal impact, the first-year PT Cruizer was rated two stars for the driver, four for the passenger. (Two stars=36% to 45% chance of serious injury in the 35 mph crash against a solid barrier). Starting with the 2002 model year, Tony Koo pointed out that this increased to a very-respectable four stars - quite good for such a small (on the outside) car.

The NHTSA web site somewhat unfairly notes that SUVs are more likely to roll over. This is certainly true, but the PT Cruiser seems to have a good, low center of gravity. Certainly, its handling will beat any of the truck-based SUVs!


Gary Howell wrote:

All the lemmings line up and only worry about the crash test, when a crash is a dynamic thing. First off if a person is that conserned about crashing, then the first thing you do is fix the loose nut behind the wheel (the driver).

Most drivers in the US [are poor], our driver licensing testing is a joke. If you're serious about surviving a crash, then avoid them. Take a professional defensive driving test, learn how to avoid them. But unfortunately our society has the mentality it is not my fault, and blame it on the car company for not building a "safe" car, I think the car companies should start counter sueing people for not taking a defensive driving course, it is the same thing.

If you truly care about yourself and family, take a driving course so you can avoid the crash. The PT handles great, and will be able to avoid crashes many other vehicles wouldn't, but again that part comes back to the loose nut behind the wheel.

The bad thing is people will waste their money paying $10,000 more for a "safer" car, when they could have spend $1,000 on a driving school and end up safer because their avoidance skills are better.

Now the other question: what does it mean? I used to work in a salvage yard and saw all kinds of wrecks, and I have rebuilt a few. I have yet to see a car hit a concrete wall at a right angle at 35 miles an hour without touching the brakes tring to stop, but that is what this test does, so what is the relevance?

As for the leg ratings on the test, they are basically worthless in the case of the driver. I have raced stock cars, and crashed; it is part of the teritory. I have never hit anything in the car with my feet flat on the floor, and doubt normal people in the world do either. I want to see a crash test with the drivers right foot standing on the brake pedal with the car nose diving under heavy braking, then the dummy's legs will be in a position to get some useful test data.

Linda and Mike wrote:

Here is what the NHTSA had to say about my follow-up questions:

Remember, we run the NCAP test at a higher speed than in the standard. The higher NCAP speeds are meant to let the consumer know how much additional safety potential the car has. Also, we hope market forces will encourage the manufacturers to design higher levels of safety into their cars. The passenger was more protected because the passenger compartment is larger for the passenger (no steering wheel). Therefore the air bag had more time to contain the passenger. Also the PT Cruiser is very safe for a side intersection crash. ...

One of the most important features is the structure of your vehicle. The structure of your vehicle absorbs the energy and maximizes the integrity of the occupant compartment (safety cage) to protect you in all, but very high speed crashes.

The second important feature is your seat belt. Your safety belts continue to be your best protection in a crash. To be most effective, they must be adjusted properly: pulled tightly across the pelvis, without slack in the shoulder strap. The adjustable anchor helps because you can change the height of the shoulder strap to improve the belt fit. The third important feature is your air bag. Your air bag inflates instantly in frontal crashes to prevent occupants from hitting the dashboard, steering wheel or windshield at speeds as low as 15 mph. These three features must work together, to provide a safer car.

I feel the structure, in the PT Cruiser, did not properly absorb the crush. Therefore the driver experienced strong forces to the head and chest from the crash. The air bag deployed properly, the head hit the air bag and (in all) probability hit the steering wheel because of the high forces.

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