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2019-2020 Update: Safest Affordable Used & New Cars

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Safest Used Cars Deals for $10K or Less, & Best New Car Safety Picks Under $25K for Teen Drivers and Families

Many families put a high priority on safety for their kids.  Unfortunately, for various valid reasons, most are not able to go out and buy a brand new car with the latest safety features.  Perhaps others are buying a car for a teen or college student and want something safe, but are concerned they might wreck a new car.  Earlier this year, the IIHS evaluated hundreds of cars to produce an updated list of recommended models for teens.  A similar list was created by Consumer Reports.

NHTSA: Teen Driving

I have somewhat different criteria for my teen drivers, with the most emphasis on actual crash test results and crash avoidance safety features.  For example, while I also exclude the smallest sub-compact and “micro” vehicles, I have no issue with my teen driving a compact sedan, but only if it has very good crash test results.  Compact sedans are less expensive to buy and maintain, plus they are generally easier to maneuver and park, especially for an inexperienced driver.

Unfortunately, the IIHS excludes compact sedans from their list, even top performing models with many safety features and good all-around crash test scores, including their own small overlap test.  In fact, some models they have recommended in the past do marginally or poorly in this newer crash test.  Like Consumer Reports, many of their recommendations are well over $10,000 even with very high mileage.  Speaking of Consumer Reports, they omit many very safe choices if the vehicle didn’t do well in their proprietary reliability rankings.

For this list, the requirements are very objective and focus only on safety with a price threshold.

Safe Used Vehicle Requirements:

  1. 5-star NHTSA overall rating
  2. IIHS Top Safety Pick
  3. Around $10,000 or less to buy
  4. Good visibility and handling
  5. No sports cars, minicars, sub-compacts or any model under 2,700 lbs
  6. No “2-star” or “1-star” ratings in any individual NHTSA crash test or rollover rating
  7. No “Marginal” or “Poor” IIHS crash test results in ANY crash test, including the newer small overlap tests

Safest Used Vehicle Preferences:

  • IIHS Top Safety Pick+
  • No 3-star NHTSA ratings in any test
  • Midsize or larger, 3,200 lbs. or more
  • Stability Control and Side Curtain Airbags standard
  • 2011 or newer.  In 2011, the NHTSA began crash testing with its improved crash test system that doesn’t compare to models before 2011

Safe Vehicle Wish List:

2020 Honda Insight Review: Kids, Carseats & Safety

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The Honda Insight: King of Small Car Safety and Hybrid Fuel Economy too?

Quite simply, the 2019-20 Honda Insight is an amazing value for safety.  Starting at a street price of around $22K ($23,725 MSRP in LX trim), Consumer Reports said that the all-new Insight is their fuel-economy champ for vehicles that don’t have a plug.  We find it equally impressive that the Insight earns a Top Safety Pick “Plus” award from the IIHS AND a 5-star overall rating from the NHTSA.  More impressive is that it gets the top results of Good/Superior in ALL nine IIHS crash test and safety ratings and a 5-star result in ALL eight NHTSA safety evaluations as well.  That accomplishment is matched by only a handful of vehicles at any price.  Most impressive is that ALL these top ratings apply to ALL Insights in ALL trim levels.  That’s a rarity among vehicles, I believe the only one for 2019 at the time of this publication including luxury models!  That’s mainly because many other models with top crash test results only earn an IIHS award on top trim levels that have the best headlight system and/or a tech options package with automatic emergency braking.

For kids, the Insight is still a small vehicle and like all compact SUVs and sedans, it’s relatively narrow and that compromises what you can put in the narrow middle seat.  While the outboard rear seats are fairly friendly to car seats in general, there will be challenges if you need to put two carseats next to each other or three-across.  The only unusual issue is the presence of fixed rear head restraints.  These protrude forward enough that they could be problematic for some taller forward-facing carseats and high back boosters, so you do need to check your carseat owner’s manual if the head restraint pushes your carseat forward or prevents the carseat from being adjusted high enough.  Some models I installed like the Graco Nautilus SnugLock and Britax Frontier did not have this issue.  The Frontier, however, can be difficult to adjust to the tallest height setting due to the roof.  Also, with the raised seat hump and slightly lower head restraint, taller passengers may not get adequate protection from whiplash in the center seat.  Headroom is already limited, so taller people may not be comfortable in the middle anyway.  On the other hand, Insight has a few inches more rear legroom than its competitors, handy not only for adults but also for rear-facing carseats.

Graco Nautilus SnugLock LX

2019 Hyundai Ioniq Hybrid/PHEV Video Review: Kids, Carseats & Safety

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The 2019 Hyundai Ioniq Hybrid and Plug-In Hybrid Vehicles are safe choices for small families on a budget.  Starting with street prices below $23,000 after incentives, the Hybrid SEL trim offers good IIHS crash test ratings and many active crash avoidance features, like automatic emergency braking.  Ioniq is also a competent driver, but doesn’t stand out in terms of handling, braking, acceleration or ride within the class.  Hybrid or Plug-in variant, fuel economy is also a big plus.  Both models provide good value all around, with the major disadvantage being that base trim levels don’t offer automatic emergency braking like the Toyota Prius and Honda Insight.

Like the Prius, Insight and any compact car or SUV, there are compromises when it comes to installing carseats.  The middle seat is not very carseat friendly, with a narrow width and longish buckle stalks that can make it challenging to use a carseat or booster there. Pre-teens and small teens would be the most likely candidates for the center seat, as there is also a small floor hump that may reduce the limited legroom even further.  Fortunately, the outboard seats should work fine with most carseats and boosters.  The head restraints are all adjustable/removable and there is minimal crossover of seatbelts and LATCH anchors.

With the narrow width and center seat issues, installing adjacent or three-across carseats will be very difficult.  Like the Toyota Prius, legroom is limited and a rear-facing carseat is likely to require the front seat to be moved forward somewhat.  With the center seat hump and lower head restraint, taller occupants may not get adequate head support in the middle seat.

 

Likes:

  • Good IIHS crash test results, Top Safety Pick Award on Limited/Ultimate trim
  • SEL trim great value with standard crash avoidance features
  • Reasonably priced plug-in model gets ~25 miles all electric
  • Once charge is down, you still get over 50 mpg in PHEV hybrid mode
  • PHEV model has good cargo space compared to Prius Prime
  • Hybrid version gets 55+ mpg combined EPA rating
  • Dash is well designed with nicely integrated display
  • Infotainment and displays are intuitive to use with nice knobs
  • Apple CarPlay and Android Auto standard on all trims
  • Floor mounted shifter instead of buttons or joystick on dash
  • Excellent warranty, 5/60 everything, 10/100 powertrain, lifetime hybrid battery failure
  • Driver 10-way power seat with lumbar adjustment and memory on Limited trim
  • Ventilated seat option on Limited+Ultimate trim is unusual in compact economy car segment

 

Dislikes:

  • No NHTSA crash test ratings (as of 6/2019)
  • Center rear seat is narrow and may not work with some carseats
  • Base PHEV and Hybrid Blue trims do not have standard active crash avoidance features
  • Base/SEL cloth seat material feels cheap with a very dated pattern
  • Marginal/Poor headlights on all trims except Limited with Ultimate Package
  • Ride comfort and noise levels are not as good as the competition
  • 6-speed transmission is efficient, but dual-clutch system sometimes suffers from delays in shifting

 

Conclusion:

The 2019 Hyundai Ioniq Hybrid and PHEV are targeted squarely at the Toyota Prius and Prius Prime, but usually sell for much less.  We recommend the Hybrid SEL trim that is a great value for safety at under $25,000 MSRP with street prices that are usually a thousand or two lower than the Prius LE, depending on incentives.  Unfortunately, on the Plug-in model, you are forced to upgrade to the PHEV Limited trim to get automatic emergency braking, making it somewhat less of a value in terms of safety.  While it doesn’t stand out as special in any area, it’s a very competent compact car overall with great fuel economy and an excellent warranty package.

 

Thank you to Hyundai USA and DriveShop for the loan of the 2019 Hyundai Ioniq PHEV Limited used in this review.  No other compensation was provided, and all opinions are my own.

LATCH Is Getting Easier to Use: 2019 IIHS Vehicle LATCH Ratings

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We all know that many carseats are difficult to use, even for those who take on the daunting task of reading the manual first. Manufacturers do make advances over the years with new and improved designs that make carseats easier to install and use. One such innovation is LATCH, Lower Anchors and Tethers for CHildren, which has now been around for almost 20 years.

Original designs on both carseats and vehicles made LATCH difficult to install, and often even more difficult to uninstall. In particular, automobile manufacturers often did little to improve the location and visibility of their lower anchors and top tethers. Deeply hidden and angled lower anchors were common, and top tether anchors were sometimes too close, too far or extended to odd placements in the roof of an SUV or wagon.

  

In 2015, the IIHS added a rating system for LATCH to their automobile safety evaluations.  This simple addition has provided motivation for automakers to improve their designs.  According to the 2019 LATCH Ratings from IIHS:

Nearly three-quarters of 2019 vehicles have LATCH hardware that rates good or acceptable for ease of use, as automakers continue making improvements that help parents and caregivers properly install child restraints.

The results mark a shift from 2015, when IIHS launched its LATCH ease-of-use ratings. At that time, a majority of new vehicles rated poor or marginal.

Today, 21 vehicles earn the top rating of good+, 33 are rated good, and 88 rate acceptable. Forty-nine vehicles are marginal, and only four earn a poor rating. Among automakers, Toyota and Subaru are standouts for LATCH ease of use, while U.S. automakers lag behind. Installation in pickups remains tricky, compared with other types of vehicles.

We applaud the IIHS and automobile companies for improving the state of LATCH to make carseats easier to install!

Photo Credit: IIHS

For the technically inclined, in the IIHS rating system, LATCH hardware is rated “Good” if it meets the following criteria:

  • The lower anchors are no more than ¾ inch deep within the seat bight — the place where the seatback meets the bottom seat cushion — or slightly deeper if there is open access around them.
  • The lower anchors are easy to maneuver around. This is defined as having a clearance angle greater than 54 degrees.
  • The force required to attach a standardized tool representing a child seat connector to the lower anchors is less than 40 pounds.
  • Tether anchors are on the vehicle’s rear deck or in the middle of the seatback. They shouldn’t be at the very bottom of the seatback, under the seat, on the ceiling or on the floor.
  • The area where the tether anchor is found doesn’t have any other hardware that could be confused for the tether anchor. If other hardware is present, then the tether anchor must have a clear label located within 3 inches of it.

To earn a Good rating, two LATCH positions in the second row must meet all five criteria, and a third tether anchor must meet both tether criteria.

The Good+ rating is for vehicles that meet the criteria for a good rating and provide additional LATCH-equipped seating positions! For a two-row vehicle, that means having a 3rd Good or Acceptable LATCH seating position. The third position may use either dedicated anchors or anchors borrowed from other positions. In many vehicles that have lower anchors in the second-row outboard seating positions, LATCH can be used in the center position by “borrowing” one anchor from each side. Some vehicles have one dedicated anchor for the center seat and rely on a borrowed anchor for the other side.

Good+ Rating for 2018-19 Subaru Legacy

For a three-row vehicle to earn a Good+ rating, it must have one additional good or acceptable LATCH position (without borrowing) and tether anchors in ALL rear seating positions! The additional tether anchors must meet at least one of the two tether anchor criteria. If the vehicle has a second-row center seating position, it must have good or acceptable LATCH there (with or without borrowing).

Unfortunately, pickup trucks continue to be problematic. Currently, there are no pickups that earn a good rating. Only a few pickups earn an acceptable rating, and most are rated marginal. The problem is the tether anchors. In most pickups, the carseat’s tether strap must be routed through a loop behind the head restraint and then attached to another loop or anchor, typically in an adjacent seating position. It’s VERY confusing!

Tethering single carseat in Ram 1500 Crew Cab

“When we’ve done studies observing people installing child restraints, we’ve seen that the tether anchors in pickups are a real point of confusion,” Jermakian says. “We’re continuing to work with manufacturers to come up with solutions to this issue.”

Here at CarseatBlog, we would welcome any improvement to the current tether strap routing systems in most pickup trucks. There HAS to be a better way to overcome the challenge of creating more distance between the top of the carseat and the tether anchor attachment point in the vehicle. In the meantime, we do applaud Toyota for adding a diagram to the loop of webbing, so at least it draws attention to itself and provides a clue that it’s supposed to be used for something!

Tether loop in 2017 Toyota Tundra