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Rear Design Features of Vehicles: Part 2

Part 2 of this series presents street-wise tips for identifying the rear design features of a vehicle.

Subject:  Rear Design Features of Vehicles:  Part 2

Topic:  Identifying Rear Design Features at Crash Scenes

Objective:  Learn to use visual clues to identify the rear design features of a vehicle

Task:  Given pictures of vehicles, identify the rear design feature by proper name and explain how that feature could be used for patient access or removal

Part 2 of this series presents street-wise tips for identifying the rear design features of a vehicle. Armed with this information and the images of the rear of vehicles provided, participants will be able to gain experience in identifying the design feature by name and can explain how the rear of the vehicle opens under normal conditions. The definitions of the rear design features are included in Part 1 of this three-part series.

A lift window can be identified by several visual clues. Lift windows can have an exterior handle, finger grip or curved trim piece positioned along the bottom edge of the window, typically at its center point. This is where a person grabs the window to open it out and upward. If there is no handle, there may be a protruding button below the window glass. This is the release button that is pressed inward to pop the lift window open at its center latch.

Another clue to the presence of a lift window may be the hinges positioned along the top of the window near the roofline. These two hinges may be visible along the top edge of the glass, mounted into the roof and the glass itself. These hinges have black protective covers over them.

At the crash scene, you will be able to identify that you are dealing with a framed lift window if you see a one-piece solid frame going around all four edges of the rear window glass. This is the complete frame unit that will open up as the lift window opens. If the vehicle has a lift window that is unframed, responders will be able to see the exposed edges of all four sides of the rear glass. This, plus the presence of hinges along the top indicate that the vehicle has an unframed glass lift window.

Some vehicles, such as with the Ford model line, can have a T-shaped handle mounted below the glass in the metal body of the liftgate. This handle operates both the lift window and the liftgate. The handle is labeled to be twisted one way to release the glass and the opposite direction to open the liftgate. If the T-handle is present, so are the lift window and lift gate features.

A lift window is present if you observe two round black buttons about the size of a silver dollar on each side of the rear window glass itself. These are the mounting points for the window’s hydraulic lifting struts that hold the lift glass open. These buttons will be present if the lift window is unframed glass.

A power window retracts into the tailgate or liftgate. To operate this, there will be a small key slot control button somewhere below the window on the outer panel of the gate. The vehicle’s key is placed into this slot and turned to electrically lower or raise the power window. There will not be a handle to lift up the glass as there would be with a lift window design. The bottom of the power window glass will have gasket material where it retracts inside the tailgate. When the window is fully up, all four edges of the power window glass will be concealed inside rubber or plastic molding or trim.

A lift gate is present anytime you observe a release handle somewhere on the rear of the vehicle. This one handle releases the liftgate latch or latches, allowing the entire unit to lift up. This is the most common rear design feature for minivans. The handle is usually centered along the lower portion of the lift gate although it can be well hidden from sight by being recessed into the area above or below the license plate. In addition, looking around the outer edges of the liftgate, the rescuer may be able to see that the unit has a full, one-piece frame. The two hydraulic lifter struts may or may not be visible along the inside of the rear roof pillars.

The rear window wiper arm is another good indicator of what rear design features are present on a vehicle. If the wiper arm “parks” below the glass, the glass will be either a lift window or a retractable power window. The wiper stops below the glass so the glass is free to swing open or lower. If the arms sits on the glass itself, it is probably a one-piece liftgate design. A lift window glass can have the rear wiper arm actually mounted on the glass itself. As the lift window opens, the wiper arm assembly actually moves up with the glass.

A tailgate feature on an SUV or station wagon will generally not have an outside release handle. (A handle on the outside of the tailgate is common on pickup trucks however). The SUV and station wagon tailgate design typically conceals the handle by locating it along the inside panel of the tailgate. The vehicle owner must reach in to operate the handle and lower the tailgate.

There are also SUVs with a swinging tailgate design. These vehicles have an outside handle, but it is off to one side of the vehicle, not in the center. There will be only one set of hinges on which the tailgate swings open.

A pair of half doors or Dutch doors can best be identified by the split between the two doors in the lower half of the vehicle. This will be a visible seam below the lift window. One half door, typically on the passenger’s side, will have an outside release handle to allow this door to open first. The release handle for the second half door is along the edge of the door and is only visible once the first half door is opened. Two pair of hinges for these doors may be visible near each taillight.

A full door is most readily identified by the fixed rear window glass. If the vehicle has a pair of full doors, responders will be able to see a continuous split line between the doors running from the floorline up to the roofline. A pair of hinges may be visible near each rear taillight assembly. The door on the passenger side will have an outside release handle to open that door first. If the vehicle has one large rear door, the single pair of door hinges may be visible. With a single door design, the outside door release handle will be off to one side of the door, opposite the side where the hinges are.

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Ron Moore, a Firehouse contributing editor, is a battalion chief and the training officer for the McKinney, TX, Fire Department. He also authors a monthly online article in the “MembersZone” and serves as the Forum Moderator for the extrication section of the website. Moore can be contacted directly at