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 2Topic:  Identifying Rear Design Features at Crash ScenesObjective:  Learn to use visual clues to...

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