Budget Buys: The Safest Cars Under $12000, 2014 Edition

Buying a new safe car these days is easier than ever, as ever-more features become standardized across the US fleet, such as head/torso side airbags, electronic stability control, and good front, side, and roof scores. However, if you’re on a budget, the search does become significantly more challenging. Fortunately, there are safe cars available at every budget that are worth considering if you are invested in keeping yourself and your loved ones safe on the road. Here are my recommendations for the safest cars you’re likely to find for $12,000 or less as of May 2014. Prices are based on private party prices in the Chicago Craigslist. I’ll post similar lists for minivans and SUVs soon.

a6-2005-publicdomain2005-2008 Audi A6 4WD

With a driver death rate (DDR) of zero, the 4WD A6 is one of the safest cars ever made. I only state “one of” because the E Class (below) also achieved a zero DDR. However, that doesn’t take away from the impressive accomplishment of the A6. It also comes with “good” front and side scores and an “acceptable” roof strength score, as well as ESC, ABS, and DRL, as well as front and rear head curtain airbags and front torso airbags. On paper and on the streets, it is a very safe car.

The primary downside to the Audi–well, to every Audi–is maintenance. You really need to know how to fix these or know someone who can do so cheaply, or you might easily spend the value of the car yearly in repairs.

There are currently 12 listed in the Chicago Craigslist between $8000 and $12000.

e-class - 2003 - publicdomain2005-2008 Mercedes E-Class 4WD / 2WD (e.g., E 350 or E 500)

The E Class continues its impressive legacy of safety by landing again on the safest vehicle list, this time with a DDR of zero in the 4WD version; it’s hard to get better than that. It is important to note that the 2WD received a DDR of 12, which was higher, though still impressive. It has front and rear head airbags and front torso airbags, a rollover sensor, ESC, ABS, and DRL. It has a “good” frontal score but lacks an official side score until 2007, when it received an “acceptable” score.

The primary downside to the Mercedes–well, to every Mercedes–is maintenance. You really need to know how to fix these or know someone who can do so cheaply, or you might easily spend the value of the car yearly in repairs.
There are currently 6 listed in the Chicago Craigslist between $8000 and $12000.

saab 9-5 - 2004 - publicdomain2005-2008 Saab 9-3 

The Saab is another good choice in this price range. It comes with a DDR of 16 and “good” front and side scores, and an “acceptable” roof score. It is equipped with front and rear head and front torso airbags, ESC, ABS, and DRL.

The main downside to the Saab is the possibility of expensive repairs, as it is another European vehicle (like Volvo, VW, and Mercedes) with labor-intensive construction.

There are currently 8 listed in the Chicago Craigslist between $8000 and $12000.

accord - 2008 - publicdomain2008 Honda Accord

The Accord is the best family car on this list because it is the one that will cost the least to keep on the road from a maintenance perspective. From a safety perspective, it’s a great deal with a DDR of 19, and has all of the features of the Saab 9-3, including “good” front and side scores and an “acceptable” roof score. It is equipped with front and rear head and front torso airbags, ESC, ABS, and DRL.

The main downsides to the Accord are the “acceptable” roof score, which is shared by most of the other cars in this price range. However, it is a reliable vehicle and is significantly more affordable to keep running, which makes it attractive for families already stretching their budgets to make the car purchase itself.

There are currently 22 listed in the Chicago Craigslist between $8000 and $12000.

Stay tuned for future posts investigating the safety of minivans and SUVs in this price range. When it comes to keeping your family safe, driving safely and having safety gear is important. However, it is essential to make sure the vehicle you’re driving has the crashworthiness necessary to protect you in the event of a collision. If this list is helpful, share it with your friends and family to keep them safe.

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