Used car safety ratings

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You've got your sights set on that car. It's the right price, looks good, and it's the perfect size for what you need. But there is one critical factor you may not have thought about: it is important that your vehicle offers you good protection from injury in a crash.

Used Car Safety Ratings provide you with the crash safety rating for the driver. They show you how well each vehicle protects its driver from death or serious injury in a crash.

It is also important that your vehicle offers good protection to other road users with which it might collide, including pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists, or the drivers of other vehicles. For example some large SUVs are more likely to cause serious injuries to other road users in a crash than most other vehicles.

Those vehicles which provide excellent protection from injury for their own drivers as well as for other road users in the crash receive a "Safe Pick" rating.

If you are serious about reducing road trauma, you need to consider how your vehicle protects other road users as well as you, the driver.

If you care about the safety of yourself and others, choose one of the models with a "Safe Pick" label.

Browse the Used Car Safety Ratings for vehicle categories

About the Used Car Safety Ratings

The Used Car Safety Ratings show that, on average, newer models provide their drivers with better protection from injury in a crash. These improvements come from better structural designs, an increase in the fitting of safety features such as front, side, curtain and knee airbags, more advanced seat belt systems and vehicle interiors built with more energy-absorbing materials.

Another consistent trend is that there is significant variation in the ratings within vehicle categories, even between vehicle models of the same age. And some vehicle models, including recent ones, provide good protection for their drivers but present a high risk of injury to other road users in a crash. The Used Car Safety Ratings assist buyers to select vehicle models that provide the best protection for all road users including themselves.

These ratings are based on real-world crash data up until 2014, the latest available.

Many new vehicle models and some very low sales volume vehicle models of all ages are not covered by these ratings due to insufficient real-world crash data to enable those models to be rated accurately. Buyers considering a new or late model vehicle, particularly in the light and small categories, should check the ANCAP safety ratings and look for a vehicle which holds the maximum 5 star ANCAP safety rating.

Myths about vehicle safety

MYTH: You can take more risks if you've got a vehicle with safety features - they will save you in a crash.
FACT: While safety features are more likely to increase your chances of surviving a crash, they don't make you indestructible. Safety features won't necessarily save you from death or serious injury, particularly at higher speeds or if you're impaired or not wearing your seat belt.

MYTH: A safe vehicle is more expensive.
FACT: Many reasonably priced vehicle models score very well in the safety ratings and better than some of the more expensive models.

MYTH: Older vehicles tend to be bigger and heavier, and therefore safer.
FACT: Older vehicles are shown from crash records to be less safe on average than newer vehicles, due to fewer safety features and less sophisticated design.

How the Used Car Safety Ratings are calculated

Records from more than 7.5 million vehicles in police-reported road crashes in New Zealand and Australia between 1987 and 2014 were analysed by Monash University's Accident Research Centre. The ratings were calculated using an internationally reviewed method and are influenced by the vehicle's mass, the structural design of the body, and the safety features fitted to the vehicle, such as airbags and types of seat belts.

Each of the driver protection ratings in the 2016 update has been recalculated based on the most recent crash data available so they are not comparable with the ratings published in previous years. The ratings compare the safety of each vehicle model to all other used vehicles currently available. As the safety of new vehicles is constantly improving, the same models can have different ratings from previous years.

Models of vehicles that cause lower injuries to other road users with which they collide, including other drivers, pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists, as well as providing excellent protection for their own driver, and are fitted with Electronic Stability Control (ESC) are awarded the "Safe Pick" label. In some models, ESC was optional so, if interested in one of these, check to see if it has ESC.

The score for each individual model can be compared against the ratings for all other vehicles.

The driver protection ratings are about the risk of death or serious injury to the driver of the vehicle in the event of a crash. The ratings are not about the risk of being involved in the crash in the first place, which is generally determined by a range of factors including vehicle technology, driver behaviour, vehicle condition and the road environment.

There are safety ratings for 266 vehicle models. These cover most of the popular vehicles in the Australian and New Zealand vehicle fleets manufactured from 1996 to 2014.

The "Safe Pick" vehicles have been identified from the Total Safety Rating for each model that combines driver protection as well as harm to other road users in a crash as well as only recommending vehicles available with Electronic Stability Control. Why?

The total safety rating identifies how well individual vehicle models protect ALL road users from injury in the event of a crash, including cyclists, pedestrians, motorcyclists and drivers of other vehicles. This is a better guide to the TOTAL COMMUNITY IMPACT of vehicle safety.

The crashworthiness of a light vehicle is relevant to injury outcome in around 90% of crashes in Australasia whilst vehicle aggressivity is relevant to injury outcome in around 55% of crashes. Consequently the total crash safety rating is weighted more highly towards the crashworthiness performance than aggressivity performance of each vehicle. This also means that the estimated total safety rating correlates more closely with the crashworthiness estimates of the vehicle rather than the aggressivity estimates.

If we are serious about reducing road trauma, we need to consider how any vehicle we purchase protects ALL road users, not just its own occupants. Vehicles identified as a "Safe Pick" provide best possible injury protection to all road users including their own occupants.

Electronic Stability Control is a crash avoidance technology that has been proven to be effective in a number of studies internationally. Vehicles are only recommended as a "Safe Pick" if Electronic Stability Control is available on that model. For some vehicle models Electronic Stability Control will be only available on certain variants or as an option. The "Safe Pick" only applies to vehicles fitted with Electronic Stability Control.

Why have the Used Car Safety Ratings been produced?

These ratings are produced to help people in the market who are buying a used car identify the safest models. Armed with this information, consumers can also place pressure on importers and dealers to encourage them to sell and promote safer vehicles. People are encouraged to use this guide to help them choose the safest possible car for the money they have available.

If all vehicles were fitted with the latest vehicle safety features, the number of fatal and disabling crash injuries could be significantly reduced.

Safety features that may significantly reduce the risk of death or serious injury in the event of a crash include:

  • front, side, curtain and knee airbags
  • seat belts designed to work with airbags
  • crumple zones
  • collapsible steering columns
  • high strength materials in the structure.

What types of vehicles are included in the ratings?

These ratings cover the majority of popular passenger vehicles and light commercial vehicles. The rated vehicles have been classified into 10 categories, comprising 4 categories of regular passenger car, 3 categories of Sport Utility Vehicle (SUV), 2 categories of light commercial vehicle, and 1 category of people movers.

How accurate are the ratings in predicting how safe a vehicle will be in a crash?

These ratings are calculated from the outcomes of actual crashes using statistical methods. The more often a particular vehicle model is involved in a crash, the more accurate will be the rating for that vehicle.

This means that, in general, the ratings for more common and/or older vehicles may be more accurate than ratings for newer and/or less common models. Only vehicles with a specified minimum number of crash involvements and where the rating meets minimum accuracy criteria are included. The rating category given to a vehicle reflects the estimated average risk of death or serious injury in a crash as well as the level of statistical confidence in the estimate.

Vehicles with limited real world crash experience and hence limited statistical confidence in the rating estimate tend to be late vehicle models that have only been on sale for a short time before the end of the data period on which the ratings are based. Ratings for these vehicles will possibly change in future updates as more crash data become available. Vehicles with a high degree of uncertainty in the ratings have been excluded.

Any vehicle safety rating system can only provide an indication of how much protection a vehicle is likely to offer a driver in the event of a crash, or how much harm it is likely to cause the driver of another vehicle. Whether or not death or serious injury results also depends on how safely the vehicle is driven and the particular circumstances of the crash.

What's the difference between these ratings and the New Car Safety Ratings?

ANCAP safety ratings are assessed by a combination of data obtained from the simulation of common crash scenarios undertaken on new vehicles in a controlled laboratory setting, the features that can help the vehicles avoid a crash or better protect their occupants in a crash, and the risk the vehicles pose to pedestrians in a crash. Used Car Safety Ratings are calculated using data from millions of police reports on actual crashes involving a range of drivers and all types of driving conditions.

The Used Car Safety Ratings are all calculated on a consistent set of criteria and all updated annually based on the most recent real world data. They can therefore be compared across all categories. The Used Car Safety Ratings "Safe Pick" further identifies vehicles that provide the best protection for both their own drivers and other road users in a crash and are fitted with ESC.

Any vehicle safety rating system can only provide an indication of the relative levels of protection between vehicles you can expect in the event of a crash. Whether or not you die or are seriously injured in a crash also depends on how safely you drive your vehicle and the circumstances of each particular crash.

Here is a summary of the differences between the two types of ratings:

New Car Safety RatingsUsed Car Safety Ratings
1 Determined by crash testing vehicles in a controlled laboratory setting Calculated using data from police reports on actual crashes
2 Consider only certain crash configurations - offset frontal, side impact, pole crashes and pedestrian impacts Consider all crash types
3 Consider both the ability of the vehicle to protect occupants and pedestrians from injury in a crash as well as the presence of certain safety features such as seatbelt reminder systems, ESC and other driver assist technologies in the rating Rate only the ability of a vehicle to protect people involved in the crash from injury. The presence of vehicle crash avoidance features is not considered in the ratings apart from the Best Picks being restricted to those vehicles available with Electronic Stability Control
4 Considers injury protection of the vehicle's own occupants in the rating and pedestrian protection Considers the injury protection of road users inside the vehicle and all potential collision partners including other vehicle occupant, pedestrians, motorcyclists and bicyclists
5 Do not reflect the role of vehicle mass in determining injury outcomes in a crash hence ratings cannot be directly compared across vehicles of different mass. Do reflect the role of vehicle mass in determining injury outcomes in a crash hence ratings can be directly compared across all vehicles.

These differences in the ratings can lead to differences in the assessment of some vehicles.

Any vehicle safety rating system can only provide an indication of the relative levels of protection between vehicles you can expect in the event of a crash. Whether or not you die or are seriously injured in a crash also depends on how safely you drive your vehicle.

To find out more about used car safety ratings, read our brochure. (pdf 3.4mb)

How do the Australian and New Zealand vehicle fleets rate for safety compared with fleets from other countries?

These ratings compare vehicles with the rest of the vehicle fleet, not against a fixed standard. That means that there will always be vehicles that rate good or bad. Therefore, it is not possible to objectively assess, from these ratings, the overall safety standard of the New Zealand or Australian vehicle fleets. They have not been compared with vehicle fleets from other countries for the same reason.

Won't certain kinds of vehicles score a good rating because of the types of people who drive them or where they are driven?

These factors were taken into account as much as possible when the data were analysed. The ratings were adjusted for factors such as driver gender and age, type of road user involved, speed limit at the crash location, number of vehicles involved, crash configuration, and year and location of crash. As far as possible the ratings are about the contribution of the vehicle to injury outcomes in a crash and not who was driving the vehicle or where it crashed.

What should people do if the vehicle they currently drive is rated poorly?

Crashes in even the best-rated vehicles can still result in serious injury or death to the driver. The best protection against injury is to drive safely and encourage other road users to drive safely. When people are ready to buy another vehicle, they should take these ratings into account and consider choosing one of the best-rated models.

What should people do if they can't afford one of the best-rated vehicles?

On average, newer models provide their occupants with better protection in a crash but a number of less expensive models do rate well. People should work out what they can afford to spend on a used car and consider choosing one of the best-rated vehicles that their budget allows.

Why aren't vehicles that are rated poorly taken off the road?

These ratings rate vehicles against each other, not against any fixed standard. This means that there will always be vehicles that are rated average, above average and below average. So, although some vehicle models offer better protection to drivers in a crash than others, this does not mean that the less safe models are dangerous to the extent they should be taken off the roads. All vehicles must meet local design standards for safety before they can be made available for sale.

Features to assist avoiding a crash

An increasing number of vehicles are being equipped with safety features that help drivers avoid a crash and these should be considered when purchasing a used car. Some of these features are:

  • Autonomous Emergency Braking (AEB)
  • Lane departure warning including Pedestrian Detection
  • Blind Spot Warning
  • Electronic Stability Control (ESC)
  • Traction Control
  • Anti-lock Brake System (ABS)
  • Brake Assist

In deciding between different vehicles, or different models of the same vehicle, always choose the one with more of these features fitted. ESC and AEB particularly have been shown to be highly effective in avoiding crashes.

About the Vehicle Safety Research Group

The Monash University Accident Research Centre (MUARC) has been conducting research into issues relating to vehicle safety for more than 24 years.

It began developing consumer advice on vehicle safety based on mass crash data in 1990. The same year, the NSW Roads and Traffic Authority (RTA) and National Roads and Motorists' Association (NRMA) independently set out on a joint project to develop a car safety rating system based on police records of crashes. By 1991 they had produced a relative ranking of vehicles.

In mid 1991, the two groups began to work together and combine their data into one vehicle safety rating system. The creation of the Used Car Safety Ratings resulted from that work.

The UCSRs are the main output from the Vehicle Safety Research Group research program. There have been a number of highlights over the 23 years of publication in refining and extending the ratings.

The focus of the VSRG program has become much broader than just the ratings. Key areas of vehicle safety explored by the program include assessment of vehicle safety technologies, modelling and projection of vehicle fleet composition and its effects on safety, estimating crash risk, consideration of the safety implications of vehicle choice on high risk road user groups and examining the relationship between ANCAP and real world crash outcomes.

Some specific outcomes of the Group are:

  • Investigation of the effectiveness of vehicle safety technologies including ABS braking systems, frontal and side airbag systems and electronic stability control.
  • Analysis of the influence of vehicle colour on crash risk.
  • Estimation of trends in light vehicle road trauma related to crashes involving heavy vehicles and predicting the likely impact of forecast rapid growth in heavy vehicle travel.
  • Estimation of crash risks by vehicle type including motorcycles and analysis of the effects of vehicle choice on overall crash risk.
  • Extensive analysis of the crash risks and injury outcomes associated with 4WD vehicles compared to other regular passenger cars.
  • Analysis of vehicle choices made by both older drivers and young drivers and their influence on secondary safety outcomes relative to the key crash types in which they are involved and including assessment of the potential benefits of safer vehicle choices for these age groups.
  • Assessment of the effectiveness of novice driver vehicle restrictions and the potential for improving the restriction protocols to further reduce novice driver road trauma.
  • Investigation of the potential for improving the consistency between Used Car Safety Ratings and ANCAP new car safety ratings.