When you're looking to buy a new car, safety is just as important as any other factor, including price. Michael Bor, founder of CarLotz.com in Richmond, Va., says safety is generally at the top of his customers' minds.
Fortunately, it's easier than ever to purchase a new car with safety features. At the same time, when it comes to safety, not all cars are created equal. Here are six tips for buying a safe car.
1. Larger cars are generally safer than small cars
In 2013, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) conducted its annual safety test of 12 small vehicles. For the test, each car traveled at 40 mph and crashed into a barrier 5 feet tall. The barrier was on the driver's side and measured one-fourth the width of the car.
Only half of the cars fared well in the test. Six cars rated either "poor" or "marginal."
Twice as many passenger deaths occur in small vehicles compared to larger vehicles. In a crash, a heavier vehicle will push a lighter one backward. That means the occupants of the smaller car are much more at risk for injury and death than occupants of the larger vehicle. "We're seeing a lot of customers putting their kids in bigger cars,” Bor says.
2. Crashworthiness counts
How well will you be protected by your car if you get in a crash? This quality is known as crashworthiness. Five tests – moderate overlap front, small overlap front, side, roof strength and head restraints – determine how well a car will do in a crash. The more crashworthy a vehicle, the less likely it is that you'll experience injury or even death in a crash. You can check your car's crashworthiness rating on the IIHS website.
3. Crash avoidance systems
Protecting people in crashes is vital -- but avoiding them altogether is even better. Crash avoidance systems can help. These are relatively new but many 2013 cars now have crash avoidance systems as an option. There are two available features that are already reducing your risk of getting into a crash. Forward collision avoidance tells you if you're too close to a vehicle ahead of you. The other technology, adaptive headlights, focuses light to where you're steering.
The Acura ZDX features a forward collision warning system, and six Volkswagen models offer adaptive headlights.
Head restraints, air bags and seat belts work with a car's structure to protect you in a serious crash.
Head restraints keep your head from snapping back. There are many different types. Look for a vehicle with the head restraint directly behind and close to the back of your head. If restraints are adjustable, experts say you should be able to lock them into place.
In 2009, side impact crashes – where your vehicle is hit from the side by another vehicle – were responsible 27 percent of driver and passenger deaths. Side air bags protect your chest and head in the event of a crash – however, air bags themselves can be dangerous if they inflate too close to the occupant of the car. Experts advise choosing a car where you can reach brake and gas pedals without sitting too close to the steering wheel to avoid an activated air bag.
5. Structural design
The key to crash protection is a strong safety cage that cushions and protects occupants in case of a crash. Most cars today have strong ones made from high-strength steel. Also important: the vehicle's front and rear ends should be designed to absorb a crash's impact, like a sponge. In case of a collision or crash, a strong crush zone (also called a crumple zone) in the front end of the car protects the driver and front-seat passenger.
6. The insurance factor
Insurance companies look at several factors when deciding on what you'll pay for car insurance. These include how much you use your car, your driving record, age, gender, where you live and the car itself. If your vehicle has certain safety equipment, you might qualify for a premium discount, says Mike Barry, a spokesman with the nonprofit Insurance Information Institute. For example, Allstate offers a 10 percent discount for anti-lock brakes and Erie Insurance offers savings if you carry air bags, antitheft devices and anti-lock brakes on all four wheels.