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:
1. WWW.SAFERCAR.GOV 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.
2. WWW.IIHS.ORG – 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.
3. WWW.CONSUMERREPORTS.ORG – 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.