Your car safety research should begin with crash test ratings but shouldn’t end there. When shopping for a new car, you’ll also want to research high-tech crash-prevention features and other factors, such as vehicle size and insurance claims history.
We’ll explain why these aspects are important and where to find information on them. You’ll also learn what to look for when studying vehicle safety ratings.
- Crash test ratings by car safety research groups
- Front crash prevention with auto braking
- Adaptive headlights
- Other crash avoidance features
- Size and weight matter
- Safest cars for teens and seniors
- Special tips when researching used car safety
- High insurance losses lead to higher car insurance rates
- Car safety insurance discounts
- IIHS vehicle safety awards
- Resources and Methodology
Crash test ratings by car safety research groups
A good place to begin your research is by checking crash test results. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) each year designates new vehicles that pass a series of crash tests as a “Top Safety Pick+” or “Top Safety Pick.” The IIHS tests cars on how well they protect people in front, side, rollover and rear crashes.
The IIHS Top Safety Pick+ winning cars had to receive “good” ratings on five crashworthiness requirements. They also had to have at least an “advanced” rating on their front crash prevention system with automatic braking. The Top Safety Picks had front crash prevention systems but did not have automatic braking.
Carroll Lachnit, Former Director, Consumer Content at Edmunds.com, says the IIHS tests consider not just how well a vehicle performs in a crash — but also how well the car prevents you from crashing in the first place.
“Carmakers are beginning to put things in automobiles that can prevent or at least mitigate a crash,” Lachnit says.
Along with the IIHS, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) does its ratings of the safest vehicles, and the results can be found at NHTSA.gov. The tests conducted by the two agencies complement each other, says Russ Rader, Senior Vice President at IIHS. You should look for vehicles with a four- or five-star safety rating from NHTSA.
“When buying a new or used vehicle, look for those with the best crash test ratings,” recommends Rader.
In addition to crash tests, there are two new, must-have safety features to look for when researching a new car purchase. Front crash prevention and adaptive headlights are reducing crashes, based on an analysis of insurance losses by the Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI), an affiliate of IIHS.
Front crash prevention with auto braking
While many key safety features, such as electronic stability control and side air bags, are now standard on vehicles, several new safety systems have a crucial role in improving vehicle safety and keeping motorists safer on the road, Rader says.
If you’re in the market for a new car, you should look for front crash prevention systems with automatic braking, he says. These systems can detect an impending collision and automatically apply the brakes to avoid a crash.
While front crash prevention systems with automatic braking remain optional, more vehicle models are expected to be soon equipped with the features as part of a voluntary agreement now being hammered out between the auto manufacturers and the IIHS and NHTSA.
Another important safety feature that has been shown to reduce crashes is adaptive headlights, which pivot and improve visibility around curves, Rader says.
Other crash avoidance features
Lachnit says other equipment you might want to consider includes lane-departure warning and prevention systems, which warn you when moving out of your lane or prevent you from crossing lane markers. She also suggests researching cars that have rear-cross traffic alert systems, which can notify you if you’re backing out of a parking space and another vehicle is headed your way. The IIHS also says blind-spot detection is a popular safety feature worth reviewing. You can find crash avoidance features by make and model on the IIHS website.
Size and weight matter
The IIHS safety winners span the spectrum, from the Scion iA mini car — the sole winner in that category — to moderately priced luxury cars and SUVs.
But “bigger, heavier vehicles are always safer than smaller ones,” Rader says. “That doesn’t mean you have to buy a tank.”
However, even small cars with top car safety ratings will never be as safe as larger vehicles, he says.
He recommends shopping for midsize sedans or small SUVs, which weigh about the same and are fairly comparable in terms of safety.
If you have your heart set on a small car — perhaps because you drive in urban areas and always are hunting for a parking place — Rader recommends always buying one with a high safety rating.
For mini and small cars, “it’s even more important to shop with safety ratings in mind,” he says.
Safest cars for teens and seniors
If you’re looking for a car for a teen driver, it’s essential that the vehicle has electronic stability control, Rader says.
For older drivers, along with front crash prevention systems and adaptive headlights, backup cameras may be helpful, Rader says, though you still need to remember to look in your mirrors when you put it in reverse.
Special tips when researching used car safety
Here are key factors to look for when researching the safety of a used car based on IIHS data:
- A “good” rating in front crash tests: Drivers of vehicles rated good in the IIHS test are about 46 percent less likely to die in a serious frontal crash than drivers in poor-rated vehicles.
- A “good” rating in side tests: Drivers of vehicles with good ratings in the IIHS side barrier test are 70 percent less likely to die in a driver-side crash compared with drivers in vehicles rated poor.
- Air bags that protect your head: Studies of real-world crashes indicate that side airbags substantially reduce fatality risk.
- Strong roof rating: Roof strength ratings show how well you will be protected in a roll-over crash.
- A “good” rating for seat/head restraints: Vehicles with seat/head restraint combinations rated good by IIHS have 15 percent fewer insurance claims for neck injuries than vehicles with poor ratings.
- Buy a car with electronic stability control (ESC): This technology is an extension of anti-lock brakes and lowers the risk of a fatal single-vehicle crash by about half and the risk of a fatal rollover by as much as 80 percent. ESC became standard on cars in 2012.
- Driver deaths by vehicle: If you’re in the market for a used vehicle, Lachnit recommends checking the number of driver deaths by vehicle make and model, which is available from the IIHS.
High insurance losses lead to higher car insurance rates
The IIHS additionally has information on insurance losses by vehicle make and model. Generally, more losses equate to more expensive auto insurance premiums.
Those IIHS ratings look at the collision, property damage liability, comprehensive, personal injury protection (PIP), medical payment and bodily injury liability claims for various vehicle models. These findings are a good indicator of how newer models will perform unless the car has been dramatically redesigned.
In terms of safety, PIP claim numbers are a good indicator of how well cars protect occupants in real-world crashes, says Rader. Cars with fewer PIP claims protect you and your passengers better than those with a high PIP claim rate.
Car safety insurance discounts
Depending on your insurer, you might receive a discount if your car is equipped with certain safety features. Geico, for example, offers a discount of up to 23 percent if your car has airbags and a discount of up to 3 percent for day time running lights. It also offers up to a 5 percent discount on the collision part of your insurance if your car has anti-lock brakes.
State Farm offers a vehicle safety discount based on the claims record of each vehicle make and model. The company says claim records are reviewed each year and the discount is adjusted accordingly.
So along with checking out price, horsepower and design, be sure to compare vehicle safety records before heading to the automobile showrooms. If you are shopping for a car, find out how to insure a new car before you close the deal. Once you’ve bought your new ride, you’ll need to get car insurance — start now by finding car insurance quotes in your area.
IIHS vehicle safety awards
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) introduced vehicles that met the criteria to be rated a Top Safety Pick+ and some were chosen as Top Safety Picks.
All IIHS Pick+ winning cars had to receive “good” ratings on five crashworthiness requirements, plus have at least an “advanced” rating on their front crash prevention system with automatic braking. The Top Safety Picks had front crash prevention systems but did not have automatic braking.
|Small Cars||Midsize Cars||Midsize Luxury Cars||Large Cars||Large Luxury Cars||Small SUVs||Midsize SUVs||Midsize Luxury SUVs||Large SUVs||Mini Vans||Large Pickups|
|2023 Acura Integra 4-door sedan||2022 Honda Accord 4-door sedan||2022-23 Acura TLX 4-door sedan||2022-23 Kia Stinger 4-door hatchback||2022-23 Audi A6 4-door sedan||2022-23 Chevrolet Trailblazer 4-door SUV||2022-23 Ford Explorer 4-door SUV||2022-23 Acura MDX 4-door SUV||2022-23 Audi e-tron 4-door SUV||2022-23 Chrysler Pacifica Minivan||2022-23 Rivian R1T Crew cab pickup|
|2023 Honda Civic 4-door hatchback||2022-23 Kia K5 4-door sedan||2023 Audi A3 4-door sedan||2023 Volkswagen Arteon 4-door hatchback||2022-23 Audi A6 allroad 4-door wagon||2022-23 Ford Bronco Sport 4-door SUV||2022 Hyundai Palisade 4-door SUV||2022-23 Acura RDX 4-door SUV||2022-23 Audi e-tron Sportback 4-door SUV||2022-23 Honda Odyssey Minivan||2022 Toyota Tundra Crew cab pickup|
|2022-23 Honda Civic 4-door sedan||2022-23 Nissan Altima 4-door sedan||2023 Audi A4 4-door sedan||2022-23 Audi A7 4-door hatchback||2023 Genesis GV60 4-door SUV||2022-23 Hyundai Santa Fe 4-door SUV||2022-23 Audi Q4 e-tron 4-door SUV||2023 Audi Q8 4-door SUV||2022 Toyota Sienna Minivan|
|2022 Honda Civic 4-door hatchback||2022-23 Nissan Maxima 4-door sedan||2023 Audi A4 allroad 4-door wagon||2022-23 BMW 5 series 4-door sedan||2023 Honda HR-V 4-door SUV||2022-23 Mazda CX-9 4-door SUV||2022-23 Audi Q4 e-tron Sportback 4-door SUV|
|2022 Honda Insight 4-door sedan||2022 Subaru Outback 4-door wagon||2023 Audi A5 Coupe 2-door coupe||2023 Genesis Electrified G80 4-door sedan||2022-23 Hyundai Ioniq 5 4-door SUV||2022-23 Nissan Murano 4-door SUV||2022-23 Audi Q5 4-door SUV|
|2022-23 Mazda 3 4-door hatchback||2022 Subaru Legacy 4-door sedan||2023 Audi A5 Sportback 4-door hatchback||2022-23 Genesis G70 4-door sedan||2022-23 Hyundai Tucson 4-door SUV||2022-23 Nissan Pathfinder 4-door SUV||2022-23 Audi Q5 Sportback 4-door SUV|
|2022-23 Mazda 3 4-door sedan||2023 Subaru Outback 4-door wagon||2022 Lexus ES 350 4-door sedan||applies only to vehicles built after June 2021||2022-23 Kia EV6 4-door SUV||2022 Subaru Ascent 4-door SUV||2022-23 BMW X3 4-door SUV|
|2022-23 Subaru BRZ 2-door hatchback||2022 Toyota Camry 4-door sedan||2022-23 Lexus IS 4-door sedan||2022-23 Genesis G80 4-door sedan||2022-23 Mazda CX-30 4-door SUV||2022-23 Toyota Highlander 4-door SUV||2022-23 Cadillac XT6 4-door SUV|
|2022-23 Subaru Crosstrek Hybrid 4-door wagon||2022-23 Mercedes-Benz C-Class 4-door sedan||2022 Genesis G90 4-door sedan||2022-23 Mazda CX-5 4-door SUV||2022-23 Volkswagen ID.4 4-door SUV||2022-23 Genesis GV70 4-door SUV|
|2022 Subaru WRX 4-door sedan||2022-23 Tesla Model 3 4-door sedan||2022-23 Mercedes-Benz E-Class 4-door sedan||2023 Mazda CX-50 4-door SUV||2022-23 Volkswagen Tiguan 4-door SUV||2022-23 Genesis GV80 4-door SUV|
|2022 Toyota Corolla 4-door hatchback||2022 Volvo S60 4-door sedan||2022-23 Volvo S90 4-door sedan||2022-23 Mitsubishi Outlander 4-door SUV||2022 Hyundai Nexo 4-door SUV|
|2022 Toyota Corolla 4-door sedan||2022 Volvo S60 Recharge 4-door sedan||2022-23 Volvo S90 Recharge 4-door sedan||2022-23 Nissan Rogue 4-door SUV||2023 Infiniti QX60 4-door SUV|
|2022-23 Toyota GR86 2-door hatchback||2022 Volvo V60 Cross Country 4-door wagon||2022-23 Volvo V90 Cross Country 4-door wagon||2022-23 Subaru Forester 4-door SUV||2022 Lexus NX 4-door SUV|
|2022-23 Volkswagen Golf R 4-door hatchback||2022 Volvo V60 Recharge 4-door wagon||2022 Toyota Corolla Cross 4-door SUV||2022 Lexus NX Plug-in Hybrid 4-door SUV|
|2023 Toyota RAV4 4-door SUV||2022-23 Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class 4-door SUV|
|2022-23 Toyota RAV4 Prime 4-door SUV||2022-23 Tesla Model Y 4-door SUV|
|2022-23 Volvo C40 Recharge 4-door SUV||2022-23 Volvo XC60 4-door SUV|
|2022 Volvo XC40 4-door SUV||2022-23 Volvo XC60 Recharge 4-door SUV|
|2022 Volvo XC40 Recharge 4-door SUV||2022 Volvo XC90 4-door SUV|
|2022 Volvo XC90 Recharge 4-door SUV|
Resources and Methodology
CarInsurance.com used the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety data to develop the ‘Top IIHS Safety Pick+ Vehicles for 2022’ list.
Every year, IIHS presents awards for the best vehicles in different size categories. These awards are given to vehicles that perform well in crash testing and other evaluations conducted by IIHS. Different vehicle sizes are tested in separate categories, and these tests have become more thorough over time.
- Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. “2022 TOP SAFETY PICKs.” Accessed February 2023.
- National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. “Ratings. Accessed February 2023.
- Geico. “Car Insurance Discounts – Savings on Auto Insurance.” Accessed February 2023.
- State Farm. “Save more with our auto insurance discounts.” Accessed February 2023.