Budget Buys: The Safest SUVs & Minivans 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 minivans and SUVs 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 minivans and SUVs you’re likely to find for $12000 or less as of May 2014. Prices are based on private party prices in the Chicago Craigslist. I posted a similar list for cars a bit earlier here.

sienna-gen2-publicdomain2008+ Toyota Sienna

The Sienna, in 2008, became the first minivan to achieve a driver death rate of zero, which makes it the safest minivan on this list and one of the two safest vehicles as measured by driver death rates (the other being the AWD Ford Edge). It comes with a “good” frontal score and like every vehicle on this list, features a good “side” score, ABS, electronic stability control, and head airbags for every row of seats and torso airbags for the first row.

The downsides to the Sienna are that it does not come with a roof score or small overlap score. It also does not come with a rollover sensor or feature DRL as standard. However, it is also likely to be one of the three most reliable vehicles on this list (the other two being the CR-V and Odyssey).

There are 2 currently listed in the Chicago Craigslist between $8000 and $12000.

edge - 2011 - publicdomain2007+ Ford Edge (AWD)

The Edge joins the Sienna as the second vehicle on this list to achieve a driver death rate of zero in the AWD version. The DDR is significantly higher at 25 in the FWD version, though still lower than that of the vast majority of vehicles on the road. It comes with a “good” frontal score, although the head/neck subsection is only “acceptable.” Like every vehicle on this list, it features a good “side” score, ABS, electronic stability control, and head airbags for every row of seats and torso airbags for the first row. It also has DRL, an “acceptable” roof score and a rollover sensor to trip the side airbags before rollovers, as well as roll stability control.

The downsides to the Edge include the lack of a “good” roof score and the lack of a small overlap score.

There are 10 (FWD & AWD) currently listed in the Chicago Craigslist between $8000 and $12000.

crv - 2010 - publicdomain
2007+ Honda CR-V (AWD)

The CR-V  is one of the safest vehicles on the list in the AWD format, with a DDR of 7. The FWD DDR is higher at 22 but still impressive. What’s Honda’s secret? I’m not sure, but it likely has something to do with the “good” frontal score, a good “side” score, ABS, electronic stability control, and head airbags for every row of seats and torso airbags for the first row. It also has DRL, a “marginal” roof score and a rollover sensor to trip the side airbags before rollovers.

The downsides to the CR-V include the “marginal” roof score and lack of a small overlap score. However, it’s also one of the most reliable vehicles on the list, as well as the vehicle with the best fuel economy on the list.

There are 2 (FWD & AWD) currently listed in the Chicago Craigslist between $8000 and $12000.

sedona - 2009 - publicdomain2006 Kia Sedona

The Sedona makes its debut on the budget buy list thanks to its impressive DDR of 16. It has a “good” frontal score, a good “side” score, ABS, electronic stability control, and head airbags for every row of seats and torso airbags for the first row. Unfortunately, it has a “poor” roof score.

The primary downside to the Sedona, therefore, is the roof score and lack of a rollover sensor. It would also be nice if it had DRL as standard, as well as a small overlap score. However, it’s easily going to be the cheapest minivan on this list.

There are 3 currently listed in the Chicago Craigslist between $5000 and $12000.

odyssey-3rdgen-publicdomain2005+ Honda Odyssey

Honda makes another appearance on the list with the Odyssey, which specifically makes its second appearance as a budget buy. The Odyssey continues to impress with its DDR of 17. It has a “good” frontal score, a good “side” score, ABS, electronic stability control, and head airbags for every row of seats and torso airbags for the first row. It also features a rollover sensor.

The primary downside to the Odyssey is its poor roof score (I remember reading a review of the following generation describing the new roof as 2.7x stronger, which, when dividing 4 by 2.7, would produce a roof the IIHS would have rated as “poor”) and lack of small overlap scores, as well as the lack of DRL until 2008. However, it is one of the most reliable vehicles on this list, and is another solid choice for a safety-conscious family.

xc90gen1-publicdomain
2005+ Volvo XC90

Last but not least, the Volvo XC90 deserves a mention, as it did in the previous budget buy. It is quite possible that this may be the safest vehicle in the entire list, even though it is the only vehicle present without a measured driver death rate. Why consider it without an objective, real-world assessment of its crashworthiness?

That’s because on paper, it’s the safest SUV here. It comes standard with head airbags for all three rows and front-mounted torso airbags. It has a rollover sensor to deploy side airbags before impending rollovers. It also includes ESC, ABS, and DRL. It comes with “good” moderate overlap and small overlap scores, as well as a roof score, and is the only vehicle here to feature small overlap scores in this budget.

With all of these stellar features, what’s there not to love about the XC90? Well, like any modern Volvo, it can cost an arm and a leg to repair. Several XC90s came with defective transmissions (stay away from the T6 models) and a number of other frustrations that lead many to sell them. However, if you’ve got deep pockets, a trusted mechanic, or the time and skills to repair it, there isn’t a safer vehicle on the list.

There are 31 currently listed in the Chicago Craigslist between $8000 and $12000.

This list is not all-inclusive. Despite having low driver death rates, I left a number of vehicles off this list. Some of these vehicles were left off because they either did not include ESC as a standard feature, came with poor frontal scores, or lacked side torso airbags as well as side head airbags.

Stay tuned for future posts investigating the safety of other vehicles. 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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