Winter is here.  That means good deals on new cars!  The excitement over the introduction of 2010 models is long gone.  Cash for Clunkers is a distant memory.  The economy isn’t doing much to promote sales, either.  Combine that with sales incentives for the last month and last quarter of the year, and the planets are starting to align for great deals.

But how to buy a safe one for your family?  Obviously, you should find one that has good visibility and a good driving position.  It should be comfortable for you and have conveniently located controls to prevent distractions.  Don’t settle for a 10 minute test drive.  Ask for an extended one or to borrow it overnight.  Unless it’s a model dealers can’t keep on the lot, they will probably let you.

As for crash safety, there’s one tool that can help you compare vehicles, especially those of different classes.  If you simply look at the IIHS or NHTSA results separately, you cant compare a compact to a midsize or an SUV to a sedan.  InformedForLife takes the NHTSA and IIHS results and compiles them using research from published studies.  It gives you a composite score you can compare to any vehicle in its database.  We’ve mentioned it in the past and it’s still the best tool for vehicle safety comparisons today.

It’s not foolproof, though.  Sometimes, some vehicles haven’t been put through all the tests by the IIHS or NHTSA.  For any missing tests, InformedForLife assigns a “typical” result for the class of vehicle.  That means that the overall score may change when all the test results are eventually completed and entered into the database.  For models where a full set of crash tests are available, it’s a great tool to find a safe car.

There’s a tool below to check a car.  You can also see models ranked in order in a list.  Models with a SCORE of 65 or less are quite safe.  I wouldn’t even fret about the 10 point difference between a model rated 57 or one rated 67.  Both are quite good SCOREs and the difference may well be within the margin of error.  Even models rated “Medium Risk” are good choices for safety, though perhaps not quite as safe as the best in their class.  If safety is a major factor in your purchase, I would generally avoid any model with notes in red, such as “Above Average Risk”,  “CONCERN: low NHTSA or IIHS Rating”,  “Worst 10%” or “Insufficient Data”.


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See the risk index SCORE for your vehicle

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How did our cars do,  you might ask?  Our 2006 Honda Odyssey rates a 55, apparently good enough to be in the “Best 4%”.  Our 2010 Prius earned a 65 and is listed as “Medium Risk”. apparently just missing a “Best 15%” rating because of rounding.  I have no issues putting ourselves or our kids into either model.

Find a safe car you want to buy? For pricing information, we recommend CarsDirect.com.

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