Safety is an important area to consider as you shop for your new car. No one likes to think about getting involved in an accident, but if the worst does happen, you'll stand a better chance of walking away from it if your vehicle is properly equipped. Here are 10 tips designed to help you make sure that the vehicle you buy has the safety features you need:
1. High crash test scores:
These rate how a given vehicle fares in different collision scenarios. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) conducts tests for frontal and side impacts as well as resistance to rollover. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) conducts frontal offset testing. Specifically, look for a four- or five-star crash test rating (for both front and side impacts) from NHTSA, and a minimum of an "Acceptable" rating from the IIHS.
2. Stability control:
These systems use multiple electronic sensors to monitor the driver's intended path and the actual direction the car is headed. Should the two begin to diverge, the system's computer will actuate individual brakes and/or reduce engine power to restore control. As well as these systems work, they cannot overcome the laws of physics and therefore should not be relied upon to avoid all types of accidents.
3. Navigation system:
These electronic atlases not only provide detailed maps down to the street level, they can also be programmed to give point-to-point driving directions. The latest systems can also pinpoint gas stations, ATMs as well as restaurants and hotels among other things. Most systems now use DVD-ROM technology which allows all information to reside on one CD, while older CD-ROM systems require multiple discs to cover the entire country.
4. Side-impact airbags:
Oftentimes, side-impact collisions are the worst, usually involving one car plowing headlong into the side of another, as when some dimwit runs a red light or stop sign. Unlike a frontal collision, where the car's crumple zone can help absorb some of the crash's force, a side-impact collision has only the thickness of the car's door for protection. Side-impact airbags help absorb the blow and protect the occupants from contact with hard surfaces.
5. Rear parking sensors:
This high-tech feature determines how close the vehicle is getting to anything behind it and provides an audible warning (usually via beeps that increase in frequency) to let the driver know that he is getting closer and closer to the object(s). Some vehicles also provide a visual warning as well. Sometimes called park assist, this technology is invaluable for keeping both the bumper and small children (or for that matter, anyone or anything out of the driver's sight lines) safe.
6. Side curtain airbags (also called "head curtain airbags"):
Not to be confused with side-impact bags, which help protect the torso, the curtain variety is designed to protect the precious noggins of the vehicle's occupants. Also, they often extend to the rear seats.
7. Antilock Braking System (ABS):
ABS, which prevents a vehicle's wheels from locking up by automatically and rapidly "pumping" the brakes, has two chief benefits: shorter stopping distances on slippery surfaces and the maintenance of steering control. A locked-up wheel (or wheels) will slide, and thus can't be steered, so the chance to steer around a potential collision is lost. Although ABS has been around for a long time, many drivers still aren't aware of what it feels like when it kicks in (most systems make noise and vibrate the brake pedal). We recommend that you educate yourself about the "feel" of ABS before it's needed. For instance, go to a wet, vacant parking lot after the stores have closed and slam on the brakes several times. Better yet, attend driving school and get some professional instruction.
8. Consider not buying an SUV:
No, we don't consider sport-utility vehicles evil so hold those e-mails but conclusive evidence shows that, due chiefly to their higher center of gravity, they are more prone to rolling over than other family vehicles. Unless you really need that off-road or heavy hauling/towing ability, think about a minivan or station wagon instead. Not only are they safer, they're generally less expensive and much easier on fuel.
9. Good tires:
This one might seem a little obvious, but make sure you've got a good set of tires on the car. Remember, the tires are literally "where the rubber meets the road" and they are critical in terms of driving safety. If you're buying a used vehicle and the tires are worn, ask the seller to replace them or reduce the price by a couple hundred bucks so you can install some good rubber on the car. And we recommend keeping your wheels aligned and checking your tire pressure once a month.
10. Cargo netting or cargo cage:
Especially important in a station wagon or other vehicles with an open cargo area in the rear, cargo netting can prevent a kid's toy or heavy luggage from making a visitation upside your head during a sudden stop.