By Anthony Santiago - Editor-in-Chief

January 12, 2023
how to evaluate safety ratings

I'm always looking for ways to ensure my family has a safe and reliable car.

As a result, I'm eager to research cars' safety ratings and features before buying. In this blog post, I'll be exploring the different strategies and tools available for correctly assessing used and new vehicles before making any purchases. There is no shortage of safety features in today's market, but we cover what you need to know.

Buckle up, and let's get started!

Introduction: What Are Car Safety Ratings and Features?

Safety is foremost in your mind when you're looking for a car. Car safety ratings consider critical aspects such as crashworthiness, prevention of accidents, and awareness on the road. Comfortability and visibility are also considered when determining a vehicle's rating.

Moreover, essential features like airbags, ABS (anti-lock brakes), and stability control guarantee that you and your passengers can always enjoy safer travel.

It's essential to familiarize yourself with vehicle safety ratings and features by learning what goes into a car evaluation and precisely which characteristics can add an extra layer of protection. At the same time, on the road, you'll be able to make knowledgeable decisions when selecting a car that meets all your requirements.

Researching Car Safety Ratings and Features

Making sense of the mass number of car safety ratings and features can take time and effort. However, with some guidance on deciphering this data, your research process may feel manageable. Fortunately, there are various ways to compare these automobile specifications so that you make an informed decision when shopping for a new or used car.

Understanding Car Safety Ratings and Crash Tests


The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), a federal agency, assigns a safety score of one to five stars, with a higher rating indicating superior protection for passengers in case of an accident. You should investigate the NHTSA 5-star Safety Ratings program rating for any car you consider buying, as this could be part of your ultimate decision-making process.

In addition, you can check NHTSA for any recalls that might be published for your vehicle. So you already own the car, it is essential to remain vigilant about any recall status. This way, you can ensure that any potential problems get addressed promptly by qualified mechanics specializing in auto repair services implemented from global automotive companies' recalls. Keeping tabs on your vehicle's recall updates will guarantee optimal performance and ensure your driving experience remains safe now and years later.


The Insurance Institute For Highway Safety (IIHS) tests vehicles' safety in the event of car accidents and evaluates their ability to protect drivers, particularly in scenarios such as head-on collisions or side-impact crashes. IIHS also examines a vehicle's structural integrity after an accident.

Unlike the star ratings used by NHTSA, IIHS evaluations are based on four performance categories: Good, Acceptable, Marginal, and Poor. The best ranking is for a 'Good' result, while 'Poor' signifies lower levels of efficiency when assessed against several conditions tested by IIHS. Acceptable ratings are still a solid score and do not reflect negatively on the brand. 

Additionally, IIHS awards cars Top Safety Pick designate based on evaluation results, so you should consider this when considering your car choices if applicable.

When deciding on your next car, run the extra mile and research some more. Organizations such as Consumer Reports offer rollover resistance testing to give consumers greater insight into potential safety issues or performance concerns surrounding certain vehicles or model years. ConsumerReports provides a great guide on Car Safety.

Understanding how car safety technology works are essential when selecting a vehicle that meets your needs and budget. Researching crash test results, fuel efficiency & advanced safety features will give you peace of mind knowing that you've made an educated decision when shopping for your next or first vehicle!

Here are some standard advanced safety features available on cars today:

  1. Lane departure warning systems: Advanced systems are employed to alert drivers when their vehicles begin to drift from their designated lanes. These systems utilize cameras and sensors to detect the slightest out-of-lane movement and instantly issue warnings for immediate corrective action for lane-keeping assistance.
  2. Automatic emergency braking (AEB): Through the power of sensors, this feature can detect when a crash is inevitable. It provides a forward-collision warning to the driver. As a result, the vehicle automatically engages the brakes to minimize damage or avoid it together.
  3. Blind spot monitoring: With its array of sensors, this feature can identify when a vehicle is in the driver's blind spot and alert them with either an auditory or visual cue. This helps eliminate human error when changing highway or public roads lanes. This might include pedestrian detection as well. 
  4. Adaptive cruise control: This incredible capability enables the vehicle to stay safe from the car in front of it by autonomously adjusting its speed.
  5. Rearview camera: This feature offers a clear, unobstructed view of the area behind your vehicle to aid you with backing up.
  6. Advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS): This umbrella term covers features like lane-keeping assist, automatic emergency braking, and adaptive cruise control - all combined to significantly bolster the vehicle's safety.
  7. Automatic high-beam headlights: These systems are smartly designed to adjust the light of your headlights from high-beam to low-beam based on environmental lighting and traffic ahead. This high-beam assist is required for xenon, LED, or laser headlights. 
  8. Automatic park-assist: This innovative system harnesses the power of sensors and cameras to make parking more effortless than ever. Drivers can easily park their vehicles in tight spaces without having to worry about making any steering inputs.
  9. Automatic emergency call: In an accident, this feature (eCall in EU) can be a life-saver; it will immediately contact emergency services and provide them with pertinent information, such as the vehicle's location.

Standard safety features like seatbelts, airbags, and traction control are already standard equipment on all vehicles today, so the list above will be on your shopping list of features. As more advanced safety technologies are introduced, we will share our thoughts. For a safety checklist of available safety features, Kelly Blue Blue details a complete list of options to review. 

Assessing Car Safety Technology

After you begin your car-shopping journey, you must know what details and stats to look for as you evaluate potential cars. Here are some items to consider when assessing the safety features of a new or used car:

  • Crash Test Ratings: Crashworthiness tests are conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). These organizations test vehicles to simulate real-world hazards like front and side collisions, rollovers, head-on impacts, etc. Each car is assigned a rating from 1- 5 stars indicating how well it performs in such tests. It's important to research a vehicle's crash test results before making your purchase.
  • Safety Features: Newer cars come equipped with a wide range of innovative safety features that can help protect drivers in case of an accident. Examples of these features include lane departure warning systems, rearview cameras & parking assist systems, blind spot monitoring, adaptive headlights, high-beam assist, and automated emergency braking systems, which can detect obstacles and apply the brakes if needed to keep passengers safe at all times.
  • Fuel Efficiency Ratings: Researching fuel economy ratings can help you save money over time on gas costs. More importantly, modern cars typically boast improved fuel efficiency ratings, making them less dependent on oil and resulting in lower emissions – thus helping the environment. Fuel economy ratings are measured using miles per gallon (MPG) stats for city and highway driving conditions.

UPDATE: Rear Passenger Crash Ratings are now being conducted by IIHS. See video below to see how IIHS is making is safer for all vehicle occupants.

Comparing Car Safety Ratings and Features

Some of the safest vehicles for families under $35,000 include:

  • Honda CR-V
  • Subaru Forester
  • Toyota RAV4
  • Mazda CX-5
  • Kia Sorento
  • Hyundai Santa Fe
  • Volkswagen Tiguan
  • Nissan Rogue
  • Ford Escape
  • Chevrolet Equinox

In addition, Car and Driver and Kelly Blue Book rated the Volvo V60 Cross Country and the Volvo v90 Cross as safe new cars for 2022-2023.

These vehicles are top-notch, with the highest safety ratings from prestigious organizations such as the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). It's essential to remember that specific trims and features of each vehicle can affect their price, so always consult with a local dealership before making your purchase.

Which Brands Dominated the Safety Charts?

Honda, Subaru, and Toyota are renowned for their dependable performance in safety tests - carefully designed vehicles with superior structural integrity and advanced protective features. Countless models from these brands have been graded highly on the safety scale.

For instance, the Honda CR-V and Civic have been granted the highest ratings from NHTSA and IIHS. This is a testament to Honda's commitment to providing reliable vehicles built with safety in mind.

Subaru is renowned for its safety features, with many models, such as the Subaru Forester and Outback receiving top-tier ratings from authoritative bodies. Toyota is famous for crafting reliable vehicles, such as the RAV4, Camry, and Corolla - all of which have earned top safety rankings in numerous tests.

Hyundai, Kia, Mazda, and Volkswagen have all earned high marks for their vehicles' safety performance in rigorous tests. Many of these manufacturers offer a wide selection of models that can assure drivers looking for top-notch protection on the road.

Final Thoughts: Evaluating Car Safety Ratings and Features

When selecting a car, consider taking the time to research and evaluate a vehicle's safety ratings and features. Knowing the acceptable crashworthiness ratings, understanding your driving needs, and analyzing other 'safety features' are all vital components in helping you make an informed decision.

Additionally, it is essential to note that some newer vehicles come with advanced driver assistance technologies such as blind spot monitoringlane-departure warning systems, and rearview cameras, which can be exceptionally beneficial when selecting. This research process will ensure that you choose a car that meets your safety needs and personal preferences. In addition to safety features, check out our in-depth look at how to prepare your vehicle for winter.

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Anthony Santiago - Editor-in-Chief

About the author

I am a passionate car enthusiast who likes to help people save money and avoid headaches when it comes to cars. I believe that everyone can find the right car at the right price. I share my tips and experience so you can learn quickly and maximize your next SUV, truck or car purchase.

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