Tips for Determining the Safety of a New Vehicle

Different vehicles have different advantages and disadvantages, including considerations for safety. Vehicle safety is a broad topic that covers numerous aspects of a vehicles design, from tire safety to crash avoidance to other built-in safety features. Third-party safety rating systems, like those from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) and the National Highway Safety Administration, are helpful tools with which to start your investigation into the safety of a new vehicle. There are many ways you can determine how safe, or unsafe, a particular vehicle may be. In evaluating the safety of a motor vehicle, you are checking if any part of its performance, construction or design poses an unreasonable risk of an accident, injury or death while inside the vehicle. Elements of a vehicle’s performance, construction and design that can influence its degree of safety include steering components, fuel system components, accelerator controls, seating, wiring systems, airbags and child safety seats.

Size and Body

There are safety advantages and disadvantages to both big and small vehicles. Big vehicles tend to be heavier and, therefore, less impacted from crashes, but they are also slower stop to prevent an accident. Small vehicles are easier to handle and quicker to respond but they can sustain greater damage in a crash.

The material used to make the body of a car is an influencing factor in its safety as well. Metal and aluminum bodied vehicles are both strong and durable, but how the materials are used within the structure of the vehicle can greatly influence the safety of the car.

Check Safety Ratings

If you can look up the car you are considering with the IIHS or the NHTSA, or both, you can get a sense of how the vehicle performs on various measures of safety. The IIHS safety rating system examines a vehicle’s crash resistance and crash avoidance capability. The IIHS considers head restraints, roof strength, and driver side and passenger side airbags as indicators of crashworthiness. To avoid crashes IIHS considers headlights and the existence or lack of front crash prevention systems as indicators.

The NHTSA safety rating system is a five-star system that evaluates vehicles based on several crash test scenarios, including a frontal crash and side barrier crash, side pole crash as well as a rollover resistance evaluation.

Determining Tire Safety

Tire safety is a key component of overall vehicle safety. There are around 11,000 crashes each year related to tire issues. There are three primary elements to tire safety: tread size, air pressure level and lug nut tightness. To be safe, tire treads should be no less than 1/16 of an inch long. You can check this by the penny method, inserting a penny into the tread headfirst and seeing if the scalp rests above the tread line or below it. You can examine the treadwear indicators built onto the tires. When the tread wear indicator is balanced with the rest of the tire’s surface, the tread is too worn down and the tire needs to be changed. You can determine air pressure by measuring it with an air gauge and then comparing your result with the number listed in the vehicle’s owner’s manual for that car or online. To ensure the tires do not come off while the car is in motion, use a lug wrench to properly tighten all the lugs on your tires.

A tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS) can lower the chances of your vehicle having any tires significantly deflated by over 55 percent. Always check out any vehicle you are considering buying with the NHTSA before you buy it to make sure there are no relevant tire recalls or complaints currently active. Other tire safety factors to consider are the degrees of balance and alignment of your tires and whether or not they are the appropriate size for the given vehicle.

Crash Avoidance Features

Many vehicles now come equipped with their own crash avoidance features, including lane departure warning, adaptive headlights, automatic emergency braking systems, blind spot detectors and forward collision warnings. All these features can help you avoid a reckless driver on the road. Additionally, these features are excellent for younger drivers to help teach safe driving. Another crash avoidance feature to look for in determining the safety of a new vehicle is a rearview video system.

Electronic Stability Control (ESC)

ESC is used to assist a driver in maintaining control of the vehicle in slippery and curvy road conditions. The system will apply breaks when dangerous road conditions cause you to lose some control of the vehicle. If your car has ESC, you can feel safer driving it in the rain, snow or other inclement weather.


Important innovations have helped make airbags safer. Frontal airbags deploy differently depending on the situation using sensors to figure out when to deploy and how much to do so. Additionally, about two-thirds of auto collisions resulting in death happen straight on, whether from the front or rear. That means that one-third of auto collisions occur from the vehicles’ sides. Side airbags, therefore, can help you to further protect your head and torso and those of your front seat passengers in the event of an accident.