Whether you’re looking for a second car for a new teenage driver in the family or for a reliable daily commuter to get you to work, safety shouldn’t take a back seat when you’re shopping for a used car. The last decade and a half has seen some significant safety improvements with new technologies and systems designed to help prevent collisions. Many of these important safety features will be mandatory on new cars in the future—but they can already be found in used cars on the market. Here are the top 4 safety technologies to look for in a used car.
- Electronic Stability Control (ESC):
ESC is a system that uses anti-lock brakes and sensors that monitor steering wheel position, lateral acceleration, slip angle (or yaw rate), and wheel speeds to detect when an unintended skid or potential loss of control is about to occur. When the car begins to lose traction, say in wet driving conditions, within milliseconds ESC can apply braking to individual wheels and even reduce power to keep the car under control. The effects are usually quite subtle, and most drivers never realize the system has intervened.
Even though you may never notice it, ESC can save lives. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), electronic stability control systems reduce the number of overall crashes by 35 percent. SUV’s equipped with ESC are involved in 67 percent fewer accidents than SUV’s lacking the system. In fact, ESC was judged to be so effective that NHTSA made the systems mandatory as standard equipment in cars and light trucks starting with 2012 model year. But if you’re buying a car built before the NHTSA rule it may not have ESC. Fewer than half the cars sold in the U.S. in 2007, for example, included ESC.
- Rear View Camera:
Every car and truck–sub compact or full size–has blind spots, especially behind the vehicle. Unfortunately, those blindspots translate into thousands of back over accidents in the U.S. every year; many of the victims are children who are often killed by a parent or relative backing up. A decade ago, nonprofit safety advocacy group Kids and Cars estimated that 2 children were killed every week by a car backing over them. Furthermore, Consumers Union, which publishes Consumer Reports magazine, demonstrated that the blind area behind minivans and SUV’s ranges from 12 feet to a frightening 69 feet.
Thankfully, advances in video cameras and ultrasonic sensors have largely eliminated blind spots behind cars—assuming such a rear view camera system is installed in your vehicle. It has taken more than a decade but finally NHTSA will require all vehicles weighing less than 10,000 pounds –including buses and trucks — manufactured on or after May 1, 2018, to come equipped with rear-view cameras. In the meantime, if you do decide to purchase a used car without one, you can get a back up camera system professionally installed for about $150.
- Adaptive Cruise Control:
Often thought of as more of a convenience than a safety feature, adaptive cruise control can not only make long-distance driving less stressful, it can prevent serious collisions. Adaptive adaptive cruise control uses a combination of radar, lidar and video-camera sensors to monitor the distance between your car and the car in front of you. If your vehicle approaches a slower vehicle in the same lane, the system will slow your car down to match the speed of the car you’re following, accelerating and decelerating as needed, all the while keeping a safe distance between you and the car in front. By automatically braking without driver intervention, adaptive cruise control can prevent rear end collisions in traffic as well, and the distance between the vehicles can be adjusted by the driver (usually in three settings: close, medium and far). In older cars, adaptive cruise control was a expensive option but it’s a worthwhile safety feature.
- Side Impact Airbags:
While front driver and passenger airbags have been mandatory since 1999, many automakers have boosted safety ratings by adding supplemental side impact airbags. These systems comprise airbags concealed in the sides of seats, doors, and along the top of the door frame (so-called curtain air bags). Increasingly, carmakers are also putting airbags in the center console between the driver and passenger and including so-called knee airbags below the dashboard.
According to NHTSA, side impact crashes are the second most common type of accident and account for about 30 percent of all crashes involving fatalities or injuries (frontal crashes are the most common). Side impact airbags can significantly reduce harm to passengers, especially protecting occupants from severe head, neck, and spinal injuries, according to a study by the Association for the Advancement of Automotive Medicine.
When shopping for a used car, buyers should be aware that the adoption of side impact systems has been uneven with only about a third of vehicles including the systems in 2008, for example. But by the 2013 model year, just over 90 percent of cars, according to the IIHS, included airbags to protect the head and torso of occupants. Most car descriptions now list the total number of airbags in the car, with even small vehicles, such as the 2013 Chevy Sonic, containing 10 separate airbags.
While side impact airbags are still not mandatory, they are nearly ubiquituous now because car companies have to meet NHTSA rules to reduce the possibility of people being ejected from vehicles in an accident. Rollovers, for example, can cause such ejections and side airbags can be particularly effective in protecting passengers in such situations.
On the road to self-driving cars, automakers continue to add advanced driver assistance systems such as automatic braking, lane keeping assist, and drowsey driver alerts to improve safety. In the meantime, making sure the pre-owned car you choose includes our top safety features could help prevent an accident, and save a life.