01-21-13

To Buy New or Used: Is Safety the Question?

Crash safety tests administered by all automotive ratings agencies have been effectively “raising the bar” year after year, making it harder for automakers to achieve top scores. The end result is that consumers benefit as manufacturers find more ways to improve safety in their cars.  That said, the changes mean there are test score discrepancies among model years.

In other words, a 2012 model may not score as well as a 2011 despite being nearly identical below the surface. The car has not become less safe – rather, the lower score just means it didn’t perform as well on the new test as it had on the old.

The first changes came from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), which changed their five-star crash test procedures for the 2011 model year. The new test simulates a car skidding into a tree, in addition to the front-, side- and rollover tests the agency used for the 2010 model year and earlier. In addition, a new, small female dummy was added to the crash tests along with the average-sized male dummy that had been used previously.  The result?  NHTSA crash test scores for 2010 model year and older cars cannot be compared to 2011 and newer scores!

The second set of changes occurred with the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety (IIHS), the organization that awards “Top Safety Pick” status. In 2012 IIHS added the new “small overlap front test,” which simulates the front of the car hitting a utility pole on one side – approximately in the location of the headlight – at 40 mph. Since IIHS introduced the test in the middle of the 2012 model year, only a handful of 2012 models were tested – and most performed poorly.

One can easily see if the 2012 or 2013 model year car in consideration was subjected to the new test, and how it performed.  The results of the new IIHS small overlap front test will not be part of the organization’s Top Safety Pick criteria until all cars for the model year have been through the new test, and the IIHS says that this will be when the 2014 awards are announced.  Special mention will be made of any cars that score well in the new test as 2012 and 2013 models.

If considering buying a late-model used car, don’t be alarmed if the safety scores are lower for the identical current model. It hasn’t become any less safe — the measurement of safety simply changed.  At Mountain View Chevrolet, our specials are always a must-see; with lease and finance deals on almost every model, you might be surprised by what you buy!