Friends often ask me whether the car they are thinking of buying is safe. I always refer them to these three terrific sources of car safety information:
– This is the government’s website reporting on its safety
testing of vehicles. The government doesn’t test every vehicle sold,
but it tests many of them, more rigorously than in the tests the car makers
are required to pass to sell the car. It rates the vehicles with a star
rating system so you can compare safety from one vehicle to another. If
you “drill down” deeper into the site, you can also see the
raw numbers – the test scores. One caution: the star ratings only
compare similarly sized cars. In frontal collisions, for instance, the
tests involve crashing the vehicles into non-deformable barriers, which
simulates a head-on collision with a car of the same weight. The ratings
don’t factor in the fact that a heavy car is going to have an advantage
over a lighter car in any such collision.
– Like the government, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety
crash tests some, but not all, cars in very rigorous testing. The results
are reported on this very helpful website. Not only does this site give
good comparisons between cars, using its own rating system, it also gives
details about its tests and even allows you to watch the videos. Like
the government website, the Insurance Institute site can help you identify
not only safer models, but safer model years for those models, which is
useful if you are shopping for a used car.
– Consumers Union, publisher of Consumer Reports, is a great source
of all sorts of information on new and used cars including safety, reliability,
features, pricing, even how fun the vehicle is to drive. You can get some
basic information online for free, and more information for a small subscription
fee. Or, you can go to your local library and look at the annual April
car edition for a wealth of information. The April issue is a great starting
point for figuring out which car is right for you.
I always check all three sites when looking for a car for my family or
helping friends with their car search. The sites don’t tell everything,
for instance, some cars are “designed to the test” so that
they perform well in safety tests but contain some other safety flaw or
defect that undermines car safety. For those issues, watch this website and blog.