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Guide to Used Car Safety Ratings

Get information on the real-world safety performance of used cars before you buy.

Safety should be the major consideration when buying a car. While there are standardised ratings for new cars, it can be trickier to know how older cars are faring. However, you can learn the general safety performance of used cars with Used Car Safety Ratings (UCSR).

Always do your due diligence when buying a used car, and consider taking a qualified inspector to check the car over professionally.

What are Used Car Safety Ratings?

UCSRs are based on data from 8.8 million real-world incidents where someone was killed or seriously injured. Statistics were sourced from police across Australia and New Zealand. This information was used to estimate a safety rating based on how well the vehicle protected both drivers.

It is possible that less popular cars and fairly recent models may not be rated. For these vehicles, you should check the Australasian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP) rating.

How do USCRs compare to ANCAP safety ratings?

ANCAP ratings are for new vehicles and are produced under laboratory conditions. Each vehicle is put through a range of crash tests and a score is generated.

UCSRs are based on the actual safety performance of a car in real-world, public road accidents. UCSRs are also useful for old cars where there is no ANCAP rating. The ANCAP ratings include front and rear passenger test data in their ratings.

How are Used Car Safety Ratings calculated?

UCSRs use an international standard to determine a car's safety score. The rating is calculated based on the car's mass, structural design and safety features. Other factors that affect crash severity and level of injury, such as the driver's age and gender as well as the crash location, are taken into account so that the independent rating is based only on the car's performance.

How else can you judge the safety of a used car?

Modern cars have a range of safety features. Here are some of the common ones:

  • Front airbags. These help protect the driver and front passenger during a head-on collision.
  • Curtain airbags. Curtain airbags protect the head from striking the side door, window or external objects during a side collision.
  • Reverse parking camera. A camera, often with static or dynamic guidelines, that helps the driver see into their blind spot. Some vehicles have front cameras and 360° systems.
  • Parking sensors. Parking sensors, commonly installed on the rear (but also available for the front of the vehicle from certain car brands), act as an extra set of eyes. Using ultrasonic or electromagnetic sensors, the car can detect obstacles. This is often relayed to the driver through a constant audible tone that changes as they near the object, as well as a graphic that shows the approximate location and distance.
  • Electronic Stability Control (ESC). This feature helps reduce skidding and loss of control due to oversteering by individually braking the wheels.
  • Lane Departure Warning (LDW). If you start to drift from your lane, without the indicator on, this system will sound an alert.
  • Lane Keep Assist (LKA). Like Lane Departure Warning, LKA aims to help a driver remain in the lane. It does this by physically steering the car back to the centre of the lane, or by applying the brakes on one side to straighten the vehicle out. Also called a Lane Support System.
  • Driver Attention Warning (DAW). DAW can monitor the driver, and their vehicle inputs, for signs of fatigue.
  • Traction control (TC). Traction control slows wheel rotation by optimising road grip, either through braking or the engine.
  • Auto Emergency Braking (AEB). This feature can alert the driver to imminent impacts and apply the brakes independently if the driver doesn't react.
  • Blind Spot Warning/Monitoring (BSW/BSM). Sensors will monitor areas that the driver can't see to provide them with a visual or audio warning if a vehicle or object is detected.
  • Seatbelts. Seatbelts protect passengers and drivers from being thrown out of the vehicle during a collision.
  • Crumple zones. These zones help absorb impacts and reduce the force of collisions.
  • Post-Collision Braking. Once you've had a smash, a car with Post-Collision Braking applies the brakes to mitigate your car rolling and suffering a successive crash.

While price is always a consideration when buying a car, safety should be the priority. There are safer cars available at all price points. Research suggests that a driver of one of the worst-rated cars is 6 times more likely to die or be seriously injured than someone driving the highest-rated vehicle.

Check your Used Car Safety Rating

Used Car Safety Ratings and rust

Steel. It's a versatile material used extensively in modern car construction, but it does have a weakness. When left unprotected, the iron in the metal begins to oxidise forming rust. As the rust starts to take hold, components begin to corrode and lose integrity. Eventually, parts can fail.

In 2018, Swedish insurance company Villaägarnas Riksförbund commissioned ANCAP's European counterpart to crash test older, rusty vehicles. The results were sobering.

Rust causes weakness in used cars

A British crash test laboratory conducted the assessments. The used car models chosen were the first-generation Mazda6 and the Mark 5 VW Golf, both produced from 2003-2008. Engineers selected these cars as they are representative of 2 different vehicle classes, but also commonly suffer from rust issues in crucial areas, as you might expect from second-hand vehicles of this age.

Researchers showed that rust causes metal to lose structural integrity and become weakened. So an older vehicle doesn't perform as it did when initially crash tested. This problem is further compounded when you consider ageing models feature fewer modern safety technologies.

A rusty older car presents 20% higher death risk

A Mazda6 underwent the test.

In a frontal impact collision, the crash test dummy's head made contact with the steering wheel after the airbag bottomed out. The dummy then bounced off the wheel into the door upright. The car's body shell deformed in an unexpected manner and the floor caused lower leg injuries when spot welds failed and separated. Crash engineers noted that a weak floor could allow objects to pierce the vehicle's underside and enter the cabin, with obvious disastrous consequences.

Over the decade since production ceased, Mazda's sedan dropped from a 4 out of 5 to a weaker 3 points. In total, it shed 8 points on NCAP's scoring system.

Researchers concluded that in a heavily corroded vehicle, occupants had a 20% higher likelihood of dying in a crash.

The VW Golf, on the other hand, performed comparatively well, losing just a single point from its original crash score. This underlines a key finding of the study, that each car rusts in a unique and individual way due to use, the conditions it's exposed to and other variables.

Importantly, the laboratory tested both cars to the same standards as when they were new, not to more recent and stringent evaluations.

Identifying rust

Manufacturers apply anti-corrosion paints and surface treatments to crucial components at the factory, but eventually stone chips and wear cause coatings to break down. Drivers living on the coast will suffer accelerated oxidisation, thanks to a high salt content in the air. Vehicles used to launch boats and those driven onto the beach also experience accelerated rusting.

You can identify rust by bubbling, flaky paint and a red/brown pitting. Rust generally starts small but gets worse if left untreated. If you are buying a car, you must look underneath the body and examine the condition of structural metal components. If you see ragged holes and lots of loose corrosion, the car may be too far gone.

It's possible to use a hammer (or another metal tool, like a screwdriver) to gauge the condition of the underlying metal. If you tap the steel and it produces a sharp, defined ring, the metal should be in sound condition. If tapping makes a dull thud, the steel has most likely started corroding.

Preventing rust

Once the rust on a body panel or vehicle component reaches a certain point, it will need replacing (or repairing by a professional welder). You are far better off preventing rust by taking some simple precautions.

  • If you drive in sea water or even on the beach, take time to wash the vehicle off with fresh water. This eliminates salt which is a catalyst for oxidisation. Pay particular attention to the underside of your vehicle too (though watch out for electronics and wiring).
  • If you spot surface rust (light rust) on the underside of the vehicle, wash and dry the area. Then abrade the surface to remove pitting and flakes, and overpaint with a corrosion inhibitor and anti-corrosion primer/topcoat. Look for marine-grade products as these often perform the best.
  • Coating nuts and bolts with a non-metallic lubricant can ward off rust and make removal easier. There are also anti-corrosion sprays available.
  • If you notice a window, door or seal is leaking, get it fixed right away!

Newer cars are safer

Research shows that newer vehicles are statistically safer. You can use our car loan comparison to find a great deal on a modern car.

Compare new car loan options below

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Name Interest Rate (p.a.) Comp. Rate (p.a.) Application Fee Monthly Fee Monthly Repayment
loans.com.au - New - Variable Rate Special
Variable3 - 7 Years $5,000 - $150,000
Interest Rate (p.a.)
6.24%
to 7.74%
Comp. Rate (p.a.)
7.36%
to 8.85%
Application Fee
$400
Monthly Fee
$8
Monthly Repayment
$630.83
Go to siteMore Info
OurMoneyMarket New Car Loan
Fixed1 - 7 Years $2,001 - $75,000
Interest Rate (p.a.)
6.57%
to 18.99%
Comp. Rate (p.a.)
7.19%
to 21.78%
Application Fee
$250
min.
Monthly Fee
$0
Monthly Repayment
$622.82
Go to siteMore Info
Simplify New Car Loan
Fixed1 - 7 Years $10,000 - $300,000
Interest Rate (p.a.)
6.19%
to 18%
Comp. Rate (p.a.)
6.6%
to 23%
Application Fee
$395
Monthly Fee
$0
Monthly Repayment
$622.21
Go to siteMore Info
NRMA New Car Loan
Fixed1 - 7 Years $5,000 - $130,000
Interest Rate (p.a.)
7.29%
to 16.99%
Comp. Rate (p.a.)
8%
to 17.77%
Application Fee
$499
Monthly Fee
$0
Monthly Repayment
$635.67
Go to siteMore Info
Note: Take out a loan for an eligible electric vehicle and receive a 1.5% discount on your personalised interest rate (interest rates start from 5.79% p.a. and comparison rates from 6.49% p.a.)
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Compare the used car loan options below

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Name Interest Rate (p.a.) Comp. Rate (p.a.) Application Fee Monthly Fee Monthly Repayment
OurMoneyMarket Used Car Loan - No Vehicle Age Limit
Fixed1 - 7 Years $2,001 - $75,000
Interest Rate (p.a.)
6.57%
to 18.99%
Comp. Rate (p.a.)
7.19%
to 21.78%
Application Fee
$250
min.
Monthly Fee
$0
Monthly Repayment
$622.82
Go to siteMore Info
Verified Lending Used Car Loan
Fixed1 - 7 Years $10,000 - $200,000
Interest Rate (p.a.)
7.1%
to 18.99%
Comp. Rate (p.a.)
8.06%
to 22.99%
Application Fee
$395
Monthly Fee
$0
Monthly Repayment
$630.67
Go to siteMore Info
NRMA Used Car Loan
Fixed1 - 7 Years $5,000 - $130,000
Interest Rate (p.a.)
8.49%
to 16.99%
Comp. Rate (p.a.)
9.21%
to 17.77%
Application Fee
$499
Monthly Fee
$0
Monthly Repayment
$647.01
Go to siteMore Info
You'll receive a fixed rate from 8.49% p.a.
Finance a used car with NRMA and benefit from a fixed rate term and no monthly fees. Pre-approval available within 5 business hours.
loans.com.au - Variable Rate Used Car < 5 years
Variable3 - 7 Years $5,000 - $150,000
Interest Rate (p.a.)
7.74%
to 7.74%
Comp. Rate (p.a.)
8.85%
to 8.99%
Application Fee
$400
Monthly Fee
$8
Monthly Repayment
$644.82
Go to siteMore Info
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Compare car insurance side-by-side and get quotes

Name Product Roadside assistance Accidental damage Storm Choice of repairer Agreed or Market Value
Budget Direct Comprehensive
Optional
Optional
Agreed or Market
Finder's summary: The 2024 winner of our Best Value Car Insurance award. It's cheaper than most, plus you can lower costs by adding age restrictions.

⭐ Current offer: 15% off your first year's premium when you take out a policy online. T&Cs apply.

Who it might be good for: Anyone who wants a good value policy.
Youi Comprehensive
Optional
Agreed or Market
Finder's summary: The 2023 winner of our Best Features Car Insurance award. Plus, it's one of the only insurers to automatically include roadside assistance.

Who it might be good for: Those who want good customer service with lots of inclusions.
Australia Post Comprehensive
Optional
Agreed or Market
Finder's summary: Covers a little more than other insurers. You don’t need to pay an excess for windscreen repairs and cover applies to anyone who uses your car.

⭐ Current offer: Get $75 off your first year's comprehensive car insurance premium when you buy online. T&Cs apply.

Who it might be good for: Multiple people using one car.
ROLLiN' Comprehensive
Agreed
Finder's summary: One of the most cost-effective insurers for under 25s, according to Finder research, with no aged-based excess.

Who it might be good for: Young drivers looking to keep costs down and anyone who’d like to get more flexibility from their car insurance.
QBE Comprehensive
Green Company
QBE Comprehensive
Optional
Agreed or Market
Finder's summary: Our best-rated Car Insurer for Customer Satisfaction in 2021/2022 and Green Insurer for the last 3 years.

⭐ Current offer: Save $75 when you purchase a new comprehensive policy online. T&Cs apply.

Who it might be good for: Those who want a trustworthy insurer and more cover than other brands, such as 3-year new car replacement (e.g. they'll give you money for a new car for up to 3 years if yours is written off).
Bingle Comprehensive
Market
Finder's summary: Our data shows it’s the cheapest comprehensive policy. It just covers the basics such as damage to your car, theft and storms – it doesn’t go in for add-ons and extras.

Who it might be good for: Those wanting a low-cost, no-frills policy.
Kogan Comprehensive
Optional
Agreed or Market
Finder's summary: Kogan comes with all the perks that most comprehensive car insurance policies include, but you'll also be entitled to some benefits from its online store. This usually comes in the form of a gift voucher or discount if you buy online.

⭐ Current offer: Get $75 off first year premiums when you purchase Kogan Comprehensive Car Insurance online + $10 monthly kogan.com credit. T&Cs apply.

Who it might be good for: Kogan shoppers and those after a good range of policy options.
Qantas Comprehensive
Optional
Optional
Agreed or Market
Finder's summary: You need car insurance so why not get one that lets you earn Qantas Points? It's good value too (it's underwritten by the same insurer as Budget Direct).

⭐ Current offer: Earn up to 20,000 Qantas Points with every Qantas Car Insurance policy you take out by 22 April. T&Cs apply.

Who it might be good for: People who want more bang for their buck with Qantas Points.
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