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Choosing a Safe Car

When choosing a vehicle to buy or lease, the vehicle's safety ratings and reliability are always a consideration. A safe car is one that has passed a battery of tests and has a positive safety record. New cars tend to have the latest and greatest safety features, but used cars can be just as safe. Two considerations that can help you choose a safe and reliable vehicle are crash test ratings and the recall process.

See How to Buy a Car: General Tips, Car Inspection Laws, and Car Buying Tools and Resources to learn more.

Crash Testing and Safety Ratings

Crash tests can help simplify the process of choosing a safe car. Crash tests subject vehicles to simulated collisions, using dummies that are weighted like human passengers, to determine how well the passengers will be protected in various types of accidents. Safety ratings also may include how well a car handles in poor road conditions, how long it takes to come to a complete stop, and other such considerations.

See the following resources for more details: 

  • The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration - Each year, NHTSA crashes vehicles head-on into a wall and bashes them broadside to test their ability to protect their occupants. NHTSA focuses on evaluating vehicle restraints such as air bags and safety belts.
  • Consumer Reports - Consumer Reports' annual auto issue rates vehicles in terms of overall safety. Its safety score combines crash test results with a vehicle's accident avoidance factors--emergency handling, braking, acceleration, and even driver comfort.

Safety Defects and Recalls

When choosing a safe car, it's important to find out whether a manufacturer has recalled a car or vehicle equipment for safety defects. To search for recalls, use the NHTSA's Office of Defects Investigation or call NHTSA at 1-800-424-9393. If a vehicle has been recalled, ask the dealer for proof that the defect has been repaired. If you suffer injuries from a recalled vehicle but failed to get it fixed after notice was given, you may forfeit your right to file a claim.

Used vehicles should also have a current safety inspection sticker if your state requires one.

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