Car Safety

When shopping for a new or used car, there are a variety of factors that can play a role in your decision. Those factors can range from emotional reactions to tangible features of the car to simply your gut feeling when sitting in the driver’s seat. But according to J.D. Power research, “expected reliability” is the top priority for car buyers who were surveyed, followed by “exterior styling” and “previous experience with the brand or particular model.”(1)

These Top 3 considerations may seem somewhat odd  considering they range quite a bit from one another on the spectrum of car buying. However, I would argue that we all have a perceived minimum expectation requirement in cars. This means that we expect a car that we buy to move us from Point A to Point B in a reliable manner (for example, it’s not a 50/50 chance that your car engine randomly blows up out of the blue when simply driving to the grocery store). Although “expected reliability” is the leading car purchase driver, there may be some gray areas in terms of what all that entails. Whether you consider “expected reliability” the leading factor in your next car purchase, or you have the expectation that every car should have a minimum reliability expectation, there are some key safety ratings you can check out to ensure you’re exploring the right car in terms of safety and reliability. Because when it comes to the safety of you and your loved ones, you don’t want to assume anything.

To start, the size of your car should certainly be an initial consideration. As a point of reference, a smaller car would not hold up well in a car accident with a large pickup truck. Generally speaking, a small car has less overall protection due to the size and weight of the vehicle. On the flip side, a smaller car might be easier to handle and could potentially avoid an accident altogether. You may consider a more midsize vehicle if safety is a major concern and you have small children. Or if you live in an area where weather is a factor, you would definitely consider a larger and heavier vehicle for harsh winter conditions.

Once you have an idea about the general size of your next vehicle, you can research other safety measurements and ratings so that you can make an informed decision about the safety features of your next car purchase. There is a ton of public data available that outlines various safety measurements, but the following list breaks down a few of the main safety ratings:

  • Crash Tests – conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Both the front and side of the car is tested for crash
    impact.
  • Keep in mind, there were updates on how these tests were conducted in 2011 and 2012, so be aware if you’re looking up an older car model that may differ from a newer car model.
  • Accident Avoidance – this includes braking, emergency handling and other measurements that show how the car can avoid getting in an accident.
  • Rollover Resistance – this should especially be factored in when looking at large SUVs and pickup trucks. NHTSA created a Rollover Resistance Rating (RRR) that accounts for a vehicle’s Static Stability
  • Factor (meaning how top heavy the vehicle is) and a dynamic rollover test.
  • Roof Strength – IIHS also tracks roof strength as an indicator of injury risk in the event of a rollover.
  • Rear-Impact Protection – this factors in the design of a car’s head restraints and seats and should be considered for rear-end accidents and potential whiplash injuries.

Rear Blind Zones – also a consideration in larger SUVs and pickup trucks, large blind zones include those areas that the driver can’t see when looking in their vehicle mirror

Once you have an understanding of some of the safety measurements, you can evaluate for the safety of your car; where do you go to compare them? As with almost anything, it’s important to check more than one source to get a good sense of how it compares across various ranking systems. Here are some places you can start:

  1. Check the NHTSA (www.nhtsa.gov) – ratings are assigned on a 5-star system (the more stars mean better safety scores). You can also view additional vehicle details, including information on any recalls or investigations for each car make, model and year.
  2. Check the IIHS (www.iihs.org) – ratings are scored as good, acceptable, marginal and poor, with additional specific ratings available on various safety features.
  3. Google – this may seem obvious, but a simple Google Search showing reviews and feedback is always a good tool to gauge peer-to-peer feedback. Of course, take this information with a grain of salt since not all comments are necessarily based on material facts.

These are just a few places to start your next car purchase safety research, but remember there are countless other resources available to help you make the most informed decision about your next car. Even talking to your family, friends and colleagues proves to be a valuable tactic to hear anecdotal feedback and thoughts on makes and models of cars. By combining your research with word-of-mouth information, you can be sure you have a solid understanding of the vehicle you are considering to purchase.

There are also many top lists that rank cars according to safety features. U.S. News recently published an article outlining the Top 11 2017 Vehicles with the best safety features according to overall safety ratings and the IIHS. Here are the results:(2)

  • 2017 Tesla Model S: uses its technology advancements to enhance its safety features
  • 2017 Chrysler Pacifica: a trusted minivan with advanced safety features and crash test scores
  • 2017 Toyota Prius: along with great fuel economy ratings, it also scores high for safety scores
  • 2017 Lexus RX 350: a midsize SUV with top-notch safety features
  • 2017 Honda Accord: although the coupe earned slightly higher scores than the sedan, both are very reliable choices in terms of safety features
  • 2017 Honda CR-V: a compact SUV with a wide range of driver assistance safety technology
  • 2017 Toyota Camry: the nation’s best-selling passenger car also includes some of the best safety systems
  • 2017 Audi A4: named one of the safest luxury small cars available
  • 2017 Genesis G90: Hyandai’s new luxury brand that’s already earning high safety scores
  • 2017 Honda Ridgeline: this compact pickup truck is one of the safer vehicles you can buy
  • 2017 Mazda3: an affordable compact car that comes equipped with key safety features


Of course safety is a primary consideration when making your next car purchase. However, some of us may assume it has already been factored in when purchasing a new car. By doing your research upfront, you can ensure you are making an apples-to-apples comparison of safety features and are in the driver’s seat when it comes down to the final decision. Because at the end of the day, we don’t want to leave safety in any gray area. Rather, we should have all the facts straight and be 100% confident that this major purchase is safe and reliable.  Apply for your dream car now at ISU Credit Union.  

(1) http://www.jdpower.com/cars/articles/jd-power-studies/2015-initial-quality-study-10-most-important-factors-vehicle-purchase
(2) https://cars.usnews.com/cars-trucks/cars-with-the-best-safety-features