Guide to Used Car Safety Ratings

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

Safety should be a major consideration when buying a car. While there are standardised ratings for new cars, it can be trickier to judge how older cars stack up. However, you can check the safety performance on a range of used cars with Used Car Safety Ratings (UCSR).

UCSRs can help you make an informed decision about the safety of a second-hand car. Regardless of the rating, it is important to look for cars that have the safety features you want. You should also consider having a qualified person check to ensure that the safety features are working properly.

What are used car safety ratings?

UCSRs are based on how cars performed in real-world incidents from 1990 until 2013 where someone was killed or seriously injured. Data was collected from over seven million road accidents in Australia and New Zealand. This information was used to generate a safety rating based on how well the vehicle protected both drivers.

As the ratings are based on real-world data, less popular cars or 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 rating score is generated. As no other performance information is available, it is impossible to know how the car actually performs in a crash.

UCSRs are based on the actual safety performance of each car in real-world crashes. UCSRs are also useful for old cars where there is no ANCAP rating. However, the UCSR only considers the safety of the drivers, not vehicle passengers. 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 rating. 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.
  • Electronic stability control. This feature helps reduce skidding and loss of control due to oversteering by individually braking the wheels.
  • Traction control. Traction control slows wheel rotation by optimising road grip, either through braking or the engine.
  • Auto emergency braking. This feature can alert the driver to imminent impacts and apply the brakes independently if there is a critical situation.
  • 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.

While price is always a consideration when buying a car, there are safe cars available at all price points. Research suggests that a driver of one of the worst-rated cars is six times more likely to die or be seriously injured than someone driving the highest-rated vehicle. Check both the ANCAP and the UCSR on different cars before you decide which vehicle is right for you.

Picture: Shutterstock

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