Finding the right vehicle for your family can feel a lot like drinking water from a fire hose. There is an overabundance of information from various sources across the web, advertisements in the media, and from car dealerships. Information such as safety ratings and fuel economy shouldn’t be so difficult to figure out and so I thought I might take some time to break down the pertinent information that every would be car buyer needs to know and put it in a simple, easy to understand format that I like to call “Safety Ratings Made Simple”. It’s something I wish I had when I purchased our new vehicle and something I’ll take with me next time we’re in the market.
Define Vehicle Class
In the United States, there are certain standards that create what’s commonly referred to as “vehicle class”. These standards are based on factors like seating capacity, weight, and space. Generally speaking, when advertisers or dealerships make comparisons about vehicle safety (or just about any other topic) they are referring to how that particular model holds up against the other vehicles within its class. Just like school, you wouldn’t compare the reading level of a second grader to the comprehension of a child who is in junior high. In a similar fashion, standards dictate which vehicles can be compared to one another. As such, the following terms are used to define vehicles on the market:
- Subcompact Cars
- Compact Cars
- Midsize Cars
- Large Cars
- Performance Cars
- Compact SUVs
- Midsize SUVs
- Large SUVs
- Compact Pickups
- Large Pickups
- Speciality Vehicles (Electric, Hybrid, Flex Fuel, Diesel)
Advertisers throw a lot of terms around when it comes to vehicles on the market but for the everyday consumer, it’s hard to decipher what those ratings really mean so let’s begin by explaining how a car is rated in the first place. It is important to remember that vehicles are rated against others in their same category so the highest rated compact car might not be as safe as a vehicle classified as a mid sized SUV (or vice versa). Safety ratings are a result of various types of crash testing performed on vehicles before they go out on the market. There are two major tests ratings that you need to be aware of: The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).
The NHTSA tests results scale from one to five stars with five stars being the highest rated and one being the least safe. The higher the rating, the safer the vehicle. These tests look at the following factors for safety:
- Side Impact – Front Seat
- Side Impact – Rear Seat
- Rollover Resistance
- Front Overall
- Front Driver’s Side
- Front Passenger’s Side
- Side Overall
*The overall safety rating of the vehicle is what most advertisements will use to market a vehicle.*
The IIHS test results scale from “bad” to “good”. What you should be looking for with these tests is pretty self explanatory. These tests look at the following factors for safety:
- Left Leg/Foot
- Right Leg/Foot
- Structure/Safety Cage
- Driver Head Protection
- Driver Head and Neck
- Driver Pelvis and Leg
- Driver Torso
- Rear Passenger Head Protection
- Rear Passenger Head and Neck
- Rear Passenger Pelvis and Leg
- Rear Passenger Safety Cage
- Dynamic Rating
- Seat Head/Restraint
Factors such as vehicle weight can be indicative of how it will perform when impacted. Generally speaking, larger, heavier vehicles tend to protect passengers more than their smaller counterparts but rollover rates for SUVs are as much as fifteen percent higher than smaller vehicles so that’s something to consider when purchasing a vehicle. Factors like tires (which should be properly inflated and highly rated to ensure premium quality), anti lock brakes (which should come standard in most vehicles on the market today), and traction control (which is a great preventative measure for losing control of your vehicle on wet roads) are all things that go into an automobiles safety rating.
The equipment within a vehicle is, perhaps, the most important part of safety. Seat belts and airbags are tested for their effectiveness in collisions and their ratings are on a scale from one to five stars, five being the best rating and one being the lowest. Seat belts should be highly rated to prevent ejection from the automobile in a crash and airbags should be the highest star rating possible as they keep passengers at a significantly lower risk (90 percent) of serious injury or fatality in a crash. To help simplify all of this, refer to the bullets below.
- Heavier vehicles tend to be safer during a collision.
- Lighter vehicles are 15% less likely to rollover.
- Be sure to select a vehicle with high tire ratings.
- Anti lock brakes are a must have with any vehicle purchase.
- Traction Control is an excellent, sometimes life saving, feature.
- Select 5 star rated seat belts and airbags.
Overall, it’s important to remember that vehicle safety ratings aren’t just another gimmick to sell cars, trucks, and SUVs. Much thought and time goes into rating a vehicle before it goes out on the market and understanding that process is key to ensuring safe and happy travel for all.
Author Bio: Kyle is an automotive enthusiast offering tips and advice on driver awareness, driver safety and has written about automotive maintenance and care while consulting for Joe Machens Nissan a new and used car dealership.