How to Choose a Safe Car

Choosing a safe car is one of the most important things you can do to keep your loved ones safe on the road, which is precisely why I started this car safety-* blog. The above image of a Jeep Cherokee after a frontal crash is just one example of the varied tests run by the NHTSA every year that I use when determining vehicle safety. In a hurry? Here’s where to start:

Small Car Safety

Small Car Safety: The Safest are Safer than Large SUVs

Car Safety Comparisons

Volvo vs Subaru: Who Makes Safer Cars, Wagons, and SUVs in 2015?
Rollover Crash Protection: The Safest Family Minivans in 2015
2015 Minivan Safety Comparison: Sienna vs. Odyssey

Side Impact Safety Comparisons

Side Impact Crash Protection: The Safest Small Cars in 2015
Side Impact Crash Protection: The Safest SUVs and Crossovers in 2015
Side Impact Crash Protection: The Safest Minivans in 2015
Side Impact Crash Protection: The Safest Cars in 2015

Driver Death Rate Comparisons

The Safest 2-row SUVs for Small to Average Families, Per the IIHS 2015 Driver Death Reports
The Safest Cars for Families, Per the IIHS 2015 Driver Death Reports

Cars, SUVs, and Minivans that Allow 3 Across Car Seat Installations

3 Across Installations: A Guide to Which Car Seats Will Fit in Every Vehicle

4 Things To Look For When Choosing a Safe Car

1. Good Crash Test Scores

Vehicles with good scores do a much better job of protecting their occupants from serious injury or death than vehicles with poor scores. Look for “Good” front moderate overlap, small overlap, side impact, and roof scores. These are all from the IIHS. The NHTSA also conducts tests, but those from the IIHS are tougher, which means they’re more relevant to The Car Crash Detective’s goal, which is for you to walk away from a crash. Keep in mind that not every vehicle will have scores for every test. But at a minimum, whatever you drive should have a “Good” front score. It’s the most common kind of crash; don’t take chances.

2. Side Airbags

While frontal crashes are the most frequent kind drivers experience, side impacts are the second most common, and between frontal, side, and rear crashes, they are by far the most likely to be fatal. Do whatever you can to buy a vehicle that comes with side head airbags beside every occupant seat, and at a minimum, torso airbags beside the front passengers. Side bags that protect both the head and torso dramatically reduce your odds of dying in a side impact collision, colloquially known as T-bones. If you can, look for cars with side airbags programmed to automatically deploy if a rollover is sensed, as these reduce your risks of injury and death further still. This is a blueprint example of what you want your car to do in a side impact collision: enable you to walk away.

3. Electronic Stability Control

Electronic Stability Control is one of the most important features you can have in a vehicle. It’s a multi-directional version of ABS; it reduces the odds of skidding and losing control after sharp turns by applying braking forces to individual tires to help the vehicle travel in the same direction as the steering wheel. It’s estimated to cut the risk of a fatal single vehicle crash in half. And considering the fact that around half of the vehicular fatalities in the country each year are single vehicle crashes, that’s a huge difference.

4. Ride Height

This isn’t expressed clearly on most auto safety sites, but digging into the numbers shows that within a given weight class, vehicles that offer greater ride height are associated with fewer occupant fatalities. Simply put, if your head is higher than the front end of the vehicle ramming into your door at 40 mph, you’re significantly more likely to survive without life altering (or ending) brain damage. You’re also less likely to underride a taller vehicle in a front end collision if you’re in a taller vehicle in such a collision.

What does this mean?

If all of this sounds complicated, that’s because it’s rarely discussed on car forums or during most people’s discussions about what to look for in a car. But in the end, you can live with a car without air conditioning, power windows, a DVD player, and most of the other things the manufacturers try to upsell you. But if your car does a poor job of protecting you in a crash, then it’s failed its most important job as a vehicle. Take the time to make sure your next vehicle is a safe one. There are safe cars available at every budget, whether you’ve got $1000 or $100,000 on hand. Check out the “Budget Buys” series for more*information.

If you find the information on car safety, recommended car seats, and car seat reviews on this car seat blog helpful, you can shop through this Amazon link for any purchases, car seat-related or not. Canadians can shop through this link for Canadian purchases.

35,000 Americans will die this year on the road. You don't have to be one of them. A car seat and car safety blog to promote best practices for families.