When shopping for a new or used vehicle, how can you tell whether a particular vehicle is truly safe? One way is to check the safety rating it received from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Every year the NHTSA does thorough crash testing on most of the new vehicles being released—around 90 percent, most of the time—and then reports the findings, using a 5-star rating system. This information is usually easy to find on dealership websites, through simple Google searches, or by visiting the safecar.gov website, which is kept pretty well up to date.
And that’s not the only testing that’s done, either. A non-profit group called the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, or IIHS, also does some pretty rigorous crash tests and reports back on its findings. Like the NHTSA, the IIHS doesn’t test all vehicles, but it tests a significant volume of them. The testing methodologies vary, so it’s worth looking up the numbers from both organizations. Again, simple Google searches can usually turn up this information quite easily. You can also ask the sales representative at the dealership where you’re shopping.
Comparing Crash Test Scores
Now, here is one important note: You’re not encouraged to compare NHTSA ratings of cars from 2010 or earlier with cars from 2011 on. The reason for this is simple: Starting in 2011, the NHTSA introduced new testing and scoring methodologies. These are tougher, and provide the
consumer with better information. Also, more recent tests will better encompass crash avoidance technologies that come with current vehicles.
In addition, you might note that crash tests comprise different categories—including front crash testing, side crash testing, etc. Most of the time, a one-to- five-star score is awarded in each individual category, and then there is an overall/average score given to summarize the vehicle’s
overall safety functionality.
Something else to note is that you can look at the IIHS data to find their “top safety pick” within different categories; for example, if you know you want a crossover SUV, or a mid-sized sedan, you can quickly and easily determine which car within that vertical has received the most
satisfactory safety scores. This can be an excellent way to narrow your search.
Understanding Used Car Safety Scores
Of course, it is important to note that even a high safety score does not guarantee anything—and driving safely and responsibly is still vital. Still, the high-rated cars are the ones best suited to keep you and your passengers safe in the event of an accident.