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I Think Swing-Out Tailgates Should Go Away

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author photo by Doug DeMuro April 2019

I've decided that it's time to take a stand against the swing-out lift gate. My stand may be a little late, as most automakers have abandoned them -- entirely for the reasons I'm about to describe, no doubt. But, nonetheless, I'm taking a stand, as I'm done with cars that have swing-out tailgates.

First, let me define what I mean. Virtually all SUVs and hatchbacks have lift gates that are hinged on the roof so they open upwards -- or split in two, with half of the lift gate opening up, and half opening down. But a few vehicles have swinging lift gates that are hinged on the side, meaning they open outwards, like a standard door in a house. It's these lift gates that I don't like.

And there are many reasons why I don't like them -- but I'll start with the obvious: it just requires more room. While a standard roof-hinged lift gate opens upwards very easily and requires little clearance with a vehicle behind it, especially in an SUV where the bumper height already gives it a high starting point, swing-out lift gates need to be opened quite a bit in order to make them useful. This means you need several feet of space between the vehicle with the lift gate and whatever is behind the vehicle in order for the tailgate to work properly -- a big downside to practicality.

Then there's the hinge location. As you see in the image above, showing a Lexus GX's swing-out lift gate, the hinges are on the wrong side: they're designed for the right-hand drive market, which is where Lexus's parent company, Toyota, hails from. In a left-hand drive market, the right-side hinge placement means that the door swings towards the curb -- preventing you from doing easy curbside loading, since you're blocked by the door.

Then there's the clumsiness of the whole thing. Swing-out lift gates are heavy, and if you're parked on an incline with the vehicle facing up, you're liable to have the lift gate swing further than you'd like, potentially damaging something behind. If you're parked with the vehicle facing down a hill, you have to fight the heavy weight of the lift gate to get it open, since these usually don't have any helpful hydraulics like a traditional lift gate. And it gets worse: nobody has yet figured out a way to make swing-out lift gates power operated, so there's not much you can do to avoid this problem.

The result of all this is that swing-out lift gates just aren't as good as traditional lift gates that lift up or split in two and lift up or down. Right now, I can only think of two vehicles using swing-out lift gate: the Lexus GX and the Mercedes-Benz G-Class. But others have used these in the past (Nissan Cube, Toyota RAV4), and I sincerely hope the trend dies out as automakers realize the limitation of this lift gate design.

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This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
I Think Swing-Out Tailgates Should Go Away - Autotrader