Fake ‘smart car’ crash picture

Update 9/17/2009: Snopes finally debunked this photo after I published this blog post. The picture is real, but the car is a Ford Escape, not a smart car! And the crash only nailed one side of the vehicle so the driver survived and was discharged from the hospital. Myth busted!

I was alarmed when this picture of a “smart car crash” with two trucks started popping up all over Twitter with captions like “can you find the smart car?”

 Fake smart car crash picture

The so-called "smart car wreck" doesn't actually involve a smart car at all!

Momentarily I flinched, imagining myself in my little smart car in the same accident. But upon closer inspection, the image turns out to be a fake… or not of a smart car at all!

First I went back to look for blood around the wreckage. You usually don’t see blood in car crash pictures, but what can I say, I have a morbid curiosity. But there was something missing from the scene: a tell-tale spray of shattered plastic! All the body panels of a smart car are made of plastic, not metal, so when a smart car hits something at high speed, the body panels disintegrate into a spray of chips as this smart car crash test video demonstrates:

(Like watching a piano being hurled by a trebuchet, isnt’ it? Gorgeous.)

As you can see, smart car crashes are very, very messy. The car in the circulated photo is all metal. The only reason it’s being touted as as a picture of a smart car is because of the one small wheel in the wreckage. But as keen observer Soup_Monger pointed out in a forum, “That’s not a smart car in the accident photo… it has 5 bolt wheels…. and a lot more metal. Looks like another email joke.” People at smartcarofamerica.com’s forums concur that the odd wheels and lack of plastic debris mean that the car is not a smart car.

Additionally, the photo looks shopped to me. It looks like someone took a picture of an accident where two gravel trucks that had bumped into each other and pasted in wreckage from a car compacting facility.

  • Notice that the edges where the wreck meets the trucks are blurred and darkened (to hide seams), especially on the red truck, and that there is a noticeable lack of debris that you would expect in an accident like this.
  • The one visible wheel blurs into the pavement indistinguishably.
  • The car looks like it was crushed in a compactor, not at high speed, which would have smashed the it, not folded it neatly.
  • The damp spot under the so-called “smart car” is concurrent with fluid leaking from a cracked radiator caused by the red truck slamming into the truck in front of it at moderate speed.
  • The minimal damage done to both trucks suggests a slow impact that wouldn’t have had the energy needed to demolish the smart car’s tridion safety cell, the smart’s roll cage. In the video above, even slamming into solid concrete at 70 miles per hour only lightly bent one arm of the cage.

You would be surprised what people with too much time on their hands will do with a copy of Photoshop. (I should know–I work with it every day!)

So, please, look closely before you let someone else tell you what you are seeing. And remember, if this were a real wreck, not even an SUV would have made it out of there unscathed. So drive safely, no matter what size your vehicle is!

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  1. Phil Mos's Gravatar Phil Mossays...

    If that is a metal car, which it appears so, imagine that wreck with a SMART car. Ouch!

    Aug 14 2009 | Permalink

    • David's Gravatar Davidsays...

      OK, the pictures been out there for a while and there’s been lots of talk about whether or not it’s a Smart. Obviously, it is not a Smart. As for the pic has been “shopped” – absolutely not! You can check it out and check out the pixel image for yourself. It doesn’t matter how much you enlarge the picture, the pixels match, there are no lines being hidden and so forth. As for the damage on the red truck, look at the drivers side. The hood doesn’t get folded up into the windshield on a low speed collision. The front of the truck is also pushed back a fair bit, again, not going to happen in a low speed collision!

      Dec 20 2010 | Permalink

  2. Brien's Gravatar Briensays...

    Snopes is reporting that the car in question is a Ford Escape, not a Smart and that the driver apparently survived…

    Aug 14 2009 | Permalink

  3. D. Cuellar's Gravatar D. Cuellarsays...

    Just paste the photo into photoshop and enlarge. It’s obvious where sections have been cut and pasted and blurred.

    Compare pixels. A real photo will show uniformity in the pixilation on magnification.

    Watched a show on PBS Nova about a whole new discipline emerging in developing software that can tell when a picture has been altered and mostly it involves comparing uniformity of pixels.

    What irritates me is not that someone has too much time and makes up these phony photos BUT they get passed around (like to me)as genuine from folks that dislike or resent my little red Smart car.


    Aug 15 2009 | Permalink

  4. Taylor's Gravatar Taylorsays...

    I agree with you that it probably isn’t a smart car…however, that is certainly a very real accident and not faked or doctored. Smart car??? Doubt it…Real car…Definately.

    Aug 16 2009 | Permalink

  5. RG's Gravatar RGsays...

    When in doubt snopes it :) Not a photoshop aparently but far from what you’d believe and more to your point that even an SUV wouldn’r survive:


    Aug 17 2009 | Permalink

  6. Kevin Williams's Gravatar Kevin Williamssays...

    This falsehood is going rampant in SoCal, and I’m trying to put a stop to it by replying to everyone who sends it to me this letter: “I disagree. Look closer. That wheel that seems to have escaped any damage (below the red truck’s bumper) is not a match to any SMART ever produced. It is very close to the TOYOTA Celica GT and MR2, however, and is pretty close to a Pontiac Grand Am. Besides, SMART cars have only 3 lugs, and that one has five. This email was probably originated by someone who doesn’t want us to buy SMART for unknown reasons. Don’t believe everything you read.” Thanks to SNOPES for bringing to truth to wildfire internet lies.

    Aug 17 2009 | Permalink

  7. Steve's Gravatar Stevesays...

    There is a quick and easy way to know this isn’t a Smart Car… all smart cars have 3 wheel lugs on their rims… the crushed tin-can in this photo clearly has 5.

    Sep 2 2009 | Permalink

  8. astonished at your stupidity's Gravatar astonished at your stupiditysays...

    I can’t believe how blind or stupid you people are about protecting the “image” of the Smart car. Listen, you can love it all you want, but if you had any brains you would KNOW the damn thing is a death trap. And the mileage sucks for its size. Drive carefully! Oh, and keep watching the Emperor’s New Clothes!

    Dec 30 2009 | Permalink

  9. Bruce's Gravatar Brucesays...

    I am not sure about the veracity of the photo. That is not germane to my point now. On July 31, 1993, I responded to an accident on Elmendorf AFB involving a Chevy Suburban and a crash firetruck. The results of this accident have left me scared ever since. The teenager driving the Suburban was making a left turn at a controlled intersection and the crash truck was running code. Now on base, running code typically involved a speed of no more than 45-55 miles an hour due to rules and regulations imposed by the Base Commander. The result of the accident, the Suburban’s right side passengers would have both been killed by the front bumper of the crash truck. One passenger would have been decapitated and the other passenger would have had massive blunt force trauma to the head resulting in death. Fortunately there were no passengers in the Suburban.
    The point being, the large mass of the crash truck totally demolished the Suburban SUV. Size matters

    Feb 4 2010 | Permalink

  10. john hough's Gravatar john houghsays...

    everybody thinks that bigger is better and safer..NOT SO..i treated a woman in the E.R. that was in a front end collision at 10mph and DIED while in a lincoln towncar!1..how?..headsnap..broke her neck the smartcar scored 4stars and has been doing well on the road…easier to stop..has a speed limitastion of 65 due to its 3 cylindars and its roll cage…yet nobody seems to complain about motorbike accidents!! goes to show..NEVER JUDGE A CAR..BY ITS SIZE!!

    Sep 5 2010 | Permalink

  11. Mike M's Gravatar Mike Msays...

    Rachel, motorcycles represent the vehicles with HIGHEST manueverability and unobscured driver visibility. The point being is that even minor accidents for normal sized vehicles are fatal ones for motorcycles and, more often than not, because the operator FAILED to utilize those two safety advantages. Your assertion that ‘SUV drivers are more reckless’ is about as true as motorcycle or Smartcar drivers will be more careful. Statistics will bear me out that such is NOT the real world.

    Size matters … PERIOD. The smaller/lighter the vehicle – the greater the chance of getting killed in it.

    I’ve been riding on motorcycles for over 40 years BTW.

    Nov 14 2010 | Permalink

  12. Phill's Gravatar Phillsays...


    You are spot on. It really sucks that when you google Smart car crash you get pictures that aren’t even of a Smart.

    Here is another one.

    The vehicle in this one looks more like a Honda CRV.

    Jan 14 2011 | Permalink

  13. Raleigh's Gravatar Raleighsays...

    please watch these videos and tel me which one would you rather be driving i mean seriously not all larger cars will preform better and plus do you know who made those very intreging little cars MERCEDES BENZ and honestly who makes cars better than the germans.

    Apr 5 2011 | Permalink

  14. crowbar's Gravatar crowbarsays...

    Irregardless of what is perceived as dangerous, you can be injured/killed when your protection is exceeded by the force of the impact. Don’t care what we drive. The chance of escape from accidents is usually relevant to one’s defensive driving habits. Not always though. Hit a full size pickup head-on riding my motorcycle (60 mph combined speed)because the truck driver was in a hurry and crossed the center line of a local highway to turn into a car wash. He was late for a date, had to have his ride clean before picking up his date. I had absence of chance to even think about braking, move out of the way, etc. Had less than .3 seconds to react. So for all those that want to state / defend / slander one vehicle’s safety over another, you may want to rethink how you may perceive vehicular “protection”. It’s what I call “Perceived and Non-Perceived Dangers”. Again, when your protection is rendered weak by a stronger force, you lose. It’s that simple.

    May 17 2011 | Permalink

  15. Mark's Gravatar Marksays...

    Hi Rachel. You are right, No car could have survived that accident. The two trucks of immense mass makes sure of that.

    But in regards to your comment about reviewing “literature and reviews” you may be (and I would say are probably) wrong about smart cars being more safe than larger cars with a worse rating. Although they may have a higher rating than larger cars, you have to keep in mind that every size class of car has a different scale to measure up against, and cars in differing size/weight cannot be compared with each other. Such comparisons are meaningless.

    Two important non-subjective points are the following:

    1) Mass difference:
    Mass plays a huge role in terms of “who wins” in an accident. We learned about this in high school physics. Force = mass x acceleration. When two cars crash, you can say that the two cars experience the same force. But because the smart car weighs a lot less, its “acceleration” is a lot higher during a collisions… In (non high school physics) technical terms, that means that during a collision, the person in a smart car will experience a much higher jolt or degree of whiplash during collision, regardless of how strong the chassis of the smart car may be.

    2) Crumple zones:
    In “non smart” cars, the trunk or engine bay will absorb force during a collision by crumpling in. On a non smart car, there is no engine bay or trunk that can do that… So the next best thing is to add force limiters on the seat belts, to add a little “give” during a collision, so that the seat belts wont shatter your bones during a collision. But it is much much less effective than having 4 feet of engine to “give” and absorb the forces.

    People often get the wrong idea after watching a smart car crash against a normal car. They see the smart car plow through the engine bay of a normal car, destroying the front of the normal car while the smart car retains its shape. They conclude that the smart car is better built and better at protecting the passengers. This is false conclusion because of my point above; The fact that normal cars are crumpling in the engine bay or trunk is a life saving feature.

    The truth is that the best thing engineers can do for the occupants in a smart car is to ensure that the passenger cabin does not collapse and lead to smushed up people during a typical accident, and the smart car engineers have done that very well.

    Aug 9 2011 | Permalink

  16. Mande's Gravatar Mandesays...

    For all of you. I saw that accident and what you don’t see in the picutre is that the only sid eof the car crushed was the passenger side. The driver’s side of the vehicle stayed completely intact. regardless of the type of car it was a small vehile that the driver was able to get out of with out a scratch. That was a truly amazing wreck to see. Go NOLA

    Jul 25 2013 | Permalink

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