Do You Know How Safe Your Car Really Is?


Most people want to buy a safe car, but you have to know where to look for this kind of information.

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One factor that most, if not all, car shoppers prioritize when looking for a new car is safety. We drive almost every single day and being on the road puts us at risk. This is why automakers send the vehicles they produce to certain private and governmental authorities to have them subjected to various crashworthiness and safety evaluations.

These evaluations comprise several crash tests that indicate the effectiveness of the vehicle's crumple zones, seatbelts, airbags, and more, to make it easier for shoppers to compare and find a safe car to buy. Here's how to check for a car's safety rating and how the safety report for those cars is determined.

Vehicle Safety Ratings

How to Check Your Car Safety Rating

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety are the two official vehicle safety ratings agencies in North America. You can search for your car's safety rating on one or both of these agency's websites:

  • NHTSA - The NHTSA subjects most new passenger vehicles to its comprehensive evaluations every year, and those that come out tops are awarded 5-Star safety ratings. You can search for how carious cars have scored on these tests by heading over to the NHTSA website and looking under the ratings tab. Here you enter the year, make, and model of the vehicle you want to research. You can also determine whether or not your car has been subject to any recalls by searching by VIN number, or the year, make, and model of the vehicle.
  • IIHS - In a similar way, the IIHS allows you to search for your car's safety rating in the IIHS's database, and will also show you if the vehicle you're researching has been given any awards for safety.
  • On Your Car - The NHTSA also publishes its 5-star safety ratings information on the window stickers of new cars, which you can learn more about in our blog on Monroney labels, here.
Highest Car Safety Rating Volvo Safety Report For Cars
Highest Car Safety Rating
Safety Report For Cars

How Your Car’s Safety Rating is Determined

Though very similar, each official agency has its own evaluation criteria and testing methods to determine the crashworthiness and safety standards of vehicles. The best new cars on the market should achieve exemplary ratings. We discuss car safety ratings in detail here, but here's a basic explanation of how each authority determines how safe a car is.

  • NHTSA - For comprehensive and effective evaluations, the NHTSA adheres to what it calls the New Car Assessment Program. The program ensures that all new vehicles are tested under the same conditions so that consumers can make easy comparisons. The NHTSA gives vehicles an overall safety rating out of five, depending on how well the vehicle performed in frontal and side crashes, as well as in rollover crash tests. Typical evaluations include driver and front passenger frontal impacts and side impacts with a focus on the side barriers and poles. All front and side crash tests are run at 35 mph. The final test determines how prone the vehicle is to rollovers in a collision, and how well occupants will fare inside in the event of a collision.
  • IIHS - IIHS evaluations are a bit more comprehensive as they also check the strength of the roof. The roof shouldn't crush more than 5-inches in order to effectively protect cabin occupants and must be able to withstand four times the vehicle's weight. The IIHS also checks the adequacy of head restraints and the effectiveness of seat belts and airbags and even the effectiveness of certain crash mitigation technologies. These are all evaluated alongside three frontal crash tests (moderate impact and small driver and front passenger impacts) and side impacts. Each test is rated as either Good, Acceptable, Marginal, or Poor, and superb performers may earn one of the authority's highest car safety rating awards - Top Safety Pick or Top Safety Pick+. The IIHS also indicates whether child restrains systems for car seats are easy to use.
Crash Test Safety Rating IIHS

Standard And Recommended Safety Technologies

Passenger cars have a few required safety features that are part of legislation in the United States, across both passive and active safety features, explained here. The following are government-mandated in the US:

  • ABS brakes
  • Backup cameras
  • Front airbags
  • Electronic stability control and traction control
  • Seatbelts for all seats
  • LATCH child safety seat anchors/tethers

With the advent of technology, a host of advanced driver-assistance technologies have flooded the market, with newer cars coming fitted with many of these as standard, or making them available as options. The NHTSA highly recommends adding the following, where possible:

  • Forward Collision Warning
  • Lane Departure Warning
  • Automatic Emergency Braking
  • Dynamic Braking Assist
Car Safety Ratings Volvo


What are the safest rated cars in America?

In no particular order, the Volvo XC60/XC90, Toyota Highlander, Honda Civic, Subaru Legacy, and Tesla Model 3 are rated as some of the safest cars in America. According to research, SUVs offer high safety ratings by virtue of their size, shape, construction, and higher price, which has the benefit of more safety assists being part of the standard package.

What new car has the worst safety rating?

In America, vehicles have to meet certain crashworthiness and safety standards in order to make it onto the market. For that reason, there aren't really any vehicles on the market with an exceedingly poor rating. However, considering the more modern vehicles come with more modern technology, it stands to reason that older, used cars may not have the benefit of the best tech for safety. Still, you can easily get a used Chevrolet Impala, Toyota Prius, or Honda Odyssey with good safety ratings.

What are acceptable NHTSA and IIHS car safety ratings?

The NHTSA rates out of five stars, and with technology being so readily available these days, many cars are issued four or five-star ratings. Anything lower than four stars is usually considered rather poor. The IIHS makes it a little clearer by offering red-highlighted scores of Poor in areas where a car doesn't fare so well. The authority will also flag a serious concern or hazard if an evaluation resulted in a particularly worrying score.

What is an NCAP rating?

The NCAP is the New Car Assessment Program, which is an evaluation plan used to determine the crashworthiness and safety of cars for the European market. In the USA, the NHTSA and IIHS ratings are the scales we use to determine crashworthiness.

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