I admit it—I love cars. I am probably the only woman in my neighborhood (and perhaps in my county) with a subscription to MotorTrend. I watch the American and British versions of Top Gear and can name most makes and models of vehicles on the road from a distance. My dream job is to be a long-term test driver for an automotive magazine so I can report on the performance of the new vehicles I am given to drive.
As much as I love the looks and features of some vehicles, they are not what I consider first when shopping for a new or used car or truck. I encourage you to join me in making safety the top criteria you use to start car-shopping expeditions. A couple of online resources make it easy for you to compare the safety ratings of vehicles.
Safercar.gov: This is the government’s online source for data from its crash tests of new vehicles. You can find test results for vehicles dating back to 1990 by using the 5-Star Safety Ratings link. Data is available by model, class or manufacturer. Most vehicles have an overall safety rating, plus individual ratings for frontal crash, side crash and rollover crash tests. Be sure to click on the linked name of the vehicle to see more detailed results broken down by passenger and to view the vehicle’s side-barrier and side-pole ratings. You can also see if potential safety issues have been reported for your make and model and even view video of the car’s crash tests. Tests are conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS): Another great source for crash test results and safety ratings is the IIHS website. In addition to seeing the organization’s top safety picks for the current model year, you can find data on specific vehicles dating back to 1997. Instead of rating automobiles on a 1-to-5 star scale, the IIHS assigns a rating of good, acceptable, marginal or poor to each vehicle. Cars and trucks are rated on front and side crash safety, roof strength, rear crash protection and head restraints.
The IIHS is a nonprofit research center funded by auto insurance companies.
Be sure to check both websites when car shopping—results may look promising on one site but not as good on the other. For example, the 2012 Chevrolet Colorado crew cab, a mid-size pickup truck, had only one government rating posted in May 2012—three to four stars for rollover safety, depending on the drivetrain selected. A look at the vehicle on the IIHS website, however, yields more concerning results: acceptable in front crashes, poor in side-impact testing and marginal in roof strength. The 2012 Mazda3 sedan gets good marks for front and side crashes and roof strength from the IIHS, but the government gives it four stars overall, and it merits only three stars for side-crash safety in NHTSA testing.
Why the differences? NHTSA and IIHS test vehicles using different testing methods and speeds—another reason to consult both sites before shopping.
Vehicle shoppers can take their research a step further by examining insurance loss data. I’ll cover that tool in an upcoming post.