Automobile Safety Archive

2017 Update: Safest Affordable Used Cars for Families and Teens

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Safest Used Cars Deals under $10K in 2017 for Teen Drivers

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 don’t want them wrecking a new car!  Earlier this year, the IIHS evaluated hundreds of cars to produce a list of recommended models for teens.  A similar list was created by Consumer Reports.

I have somewhat different criteria for my teen drivers, with more emphasis on crash test results and 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 if it is above around 2,750 lbs., but only if it has great crash test results.  While compact cars do give up a little in terms of weight in a frontal crash, they are generally more maneuverable and easier to handle and park.  That’s important for new drivers.  And of course, compact cars are less expensive to buy and maintain.  I am also more concerned about having top results in all the actual crash tests, including the new IIHS small overlap test, and less concerned about certain other results that Consumer Reports and the IIHS factor into their recommendations.

Unfortunately, the IIHS excludes compact sedans from their list, even top performing models with many safety features and decent all-around crash test scores, including their own small overlap test.  In fact, some models they recommend do very poorly in this newer crash test.  Like Consumer Reports, many of their recommendations are well over $10,000.

My Requirements?

  1. 4-star or better NHTSA overall rating
  2. No “2-star” or “1-star” ratings in any individual NHTSA crash test or rollover rating.
  3. No “Marginal” or “Poor” IIHS crash test results in ANY crash test, including the newer small overlap test
  4. Around $10,000 or less to buy.
  5. Good visibility and handling.
  6. Stability control and side-curtain airbags.
  7. No minicars, sub-compacts or any model below 2,750lbs.  Weight is a bad thing on roads, I know.  More mass means more kinetic energy and more wasted fuel.  But when the other guy is driving a 5,000 lb. truck, the smallest cars become splatter.

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A Cautionary Tale of Car Buying

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I did something foolish last month. Car seat foolish, to be specific.

Last summer, we bought a Honda Odyssey (car seat heaven!) for me to drive and passed my Honda Fit along to my husband. Before you feel too sorry for him, it was a huge upgrade from his previous car (9 years newer!) and it made the most sense driving wise. I’m the primary kid shuttler, thus I needed the kid friendly car and his work commute is longer, thus he needed the better gas mileage car. He was bitter, but we were planning to replace it when the time was right.

And a year later, the Fit was struggling. It still ran like the workhorse of a car that it is, but the air conditioning only worked a small fraction of the time, and Honda was having a hard time figuring out why. The other issue was that we eventually want to add a 3rd child to our family (note to my parents: this is a future event, we have no exciting news to share right now) and while there may have been a way to get 3 car seats across in the Fit, it would’ve been a struggle, to say the very least.

So we went car shopping. We initially looked at used cars at a big used car company. We wanted a small SUV- just big enough for 3 car seats across in the back and room for a good sized stroller in the trunk, but not so big that the gas mileage would be terrible. I told my husband from the start that since it was his car he got to make the decisions with one exception- no overlapping seat belts.

For those unfamiliar: overlapping seat belts are a new(is) thing happening in a lot of cars. In a “normal” car, the middle seat shoulder belt originates outside of the outboard shoulder belt/buckles. There is no overlap at all between either outboard seat belt and the middle seat belt.

In cars with overlapping belts, like the picture below, the middle lap belt originates inside the seatbelt area for the outboard seat, causing the belts to overlap one another. As you can imagine in the picture below, this makes it extremely difficult, if not entirely impossible, and potentially unsafe, to install 3 car seats in a row.

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I all but refused to get into cars with overlapping belts. The car salesman thought I was crazy at first, but once I explained why he was right alongside me, pointing out incompatible cars. He also was excited to pass along the information to other families looking for cars for 3 kids, so at least some good came out of the day. We found a car we liked, but it was unavailable and so while we waited to see if the potential buyer was going to go ahead with it, we decided to go check out a local dealership.

Once we got there, we found an SUV we had seen at the used car place (no overlapping belts) and that we had liked, so we decided to look at the new version, mostly for fun. Things escalated rather quickly and we went from glancing at the outside of the SUV to test driving it in what seemed like seconds. I assumed the belts would be similar to the older version and the dealer hopped into the back before I really got a good look at the seat belts. We decided that after the test drive we would try some car seats out in it, at which point I would’ve been able to see whether the seat belts were going to be an issue.

And this is where things went off the rails.

The car ran out of gas on the test drive. We only made it like three or four blocks before the car came to an abrupt, shuddery stop. Since we had to wait for someone to gas it up and drive it back anyway, we decided to go talk about financing to see if we could even possibly make it work before we got too invested in the car.

And then one thing led to another and…we bought it. It literally happened about that fast.

As I was moving our car seats from our Fit to our brand! new! car! I discovered the problem. Overlapping seat belts. Overtly obvious (that picture is our new car…), never should’ve even considered riding in the car let alone purchasing it, overlapping seat belts. I nearly cried on the spot. In California we have a no cooling off law, so for better or, in this case, for worse, the car was ours. And while I was secretly freaking out, my husband was elated- it was his first ever new car. I couldn’t bring myself to tell him for a few days.

I honestly still do not know what we are going to do. We don’t have a 3rd child, so for now, it’s a great car. It fits our two cars seats beautifully, the gas mileage is great and the air conditioning works 100% of the time. I also noticed, after spending a lot of time trying to put car seats in, that thankfully, that the outboard lower anchors and middle seatbelt do not fully overlap, they line up pretty much on top of each other. I am not terribly hopeful, but there just might be a way to make something work for emergencies. And believe me, if I get 3 car seats securely and properly installed in the new car, I will be shouting it from the rooftops and sharing it far and wide, so you’ll know.

But until then, consider this a lesson for everyone smarter than me. Just because an older version of a car didn’t have overlapping belts doesn’t mean a new version won’t. Don’t forget to check the seat belts, even if your car runs out of gas on the test drive and the dealer gives you an amazing deal. An amazing deal on a car that won’t work for your family (planned or otherwise) is not an amazing deal. Trust me.

Diono Approves Convertible & Booster Installations with Ford’s Inflatable Seat Belt Technology

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Effective immediately all current models of Diono convertible seats (R100, R120, RadianRXT, Olympia, Pacifica & Rainier) and Diono boosters (Monterey, Cambria, & Solana) can now be used in Ford vehicles that have inflatable seatbelts! This allowance is retroactive to previous Diono and Sunshine Kids Radian and Monterey models.

Currently, inflatable seatbelts are an optional feature in the Ford Explorer, Edge, Flex, Fusion and F-150 as well as in Lincoln’s MKT, MKX and MKZ models. Read more about our experience with inflatable seatbelts in our Ford Explorer Review. This new allowance from Diono does NOT include the inflatable seatbelts found in some Mercedes-Benz vehicles.

Photo Credit: Diono

If you own a Ford or Lincoln vehicle with inflatable seatbelts, or if you are a CPS Technician working in a Ford/Lincoln vehicle that has this technology, please make sure you understand how to lock this particular type of seatbelt before attempting installation of ANY harnessed carseat.

ford-inflatable-seatbelt-upper-elr-retractorThe Ford inflatable seatbelt system uses 2 retractors which is very unusual. One retractor at the top of the shoulder belt, where you normally expect to find a retractor (pic right) and a second retractor (pic below) is near the floor at the end of the lap belt portion of the lap/shoulder belt. When installing ANY approved harnessed seat with these seatbelts you must switch the retractor on the lap belt portion of the seatbelt to locked (ALR) mode. The retractor at the top for the shoulder belt is not “switchable” – it is ELR only, meaning that section of the seatbelt will only lock during a crash or under emergency conditions. ELR retractors don’t do you any good when it comes to a harnessed carseat installation (boosters are a different story) so you MUST lock the lap belt portion of the seatbelt by “switching” the bottom retractor to locked mode. Switching a switchable retractor to locked mode is achieved by pulling the webbing of the seatbelt all the way to the end. When the webbing starts to retracts, you will hear a ratcheting sound and you will notice that the belt webbing goes in but won’t come out in this locked mode. Read the vehicle’s owners manual for clarification and more specific details.

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If using an inflatable seatbelt to secure a child in a Diono Booster seat, you don’t have to worry about any of this. Just route the seatbelt properly and buckle.

Additional information regarding Diono seats and Ford’s inflatable seat belts can be found on the Diono website:  https://us.diono.com/update-on-ford-inflatable-seat-belt-use-with-diono-products

StatGear T3 Tactical Auto Survival Kit Review

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Car Escape Tools: A Perfect Father’s Day Gift (That’s Really For You)

Ever get that special gift for your birthday or Mother’s Day?  You know, the one that you knew really wasn’t for you?  Maybe it was that chainsaw you always dreamed about?  Or something useful, but perhaps not all that thrilling, like a homeowner’s tool kit?  Maybe it was something like an iPad that you actually liked, but it was quickly claimed by that special someone who gave it to you?  Of course, I personally have always given thoughtful gifts, but I always keep an eye out for the perfect gift.  The one that will not only be appreciated, but also doesn’t seem like you actually had yourself or your kids in mind, even if you did!

We know that all of our savvy readers are concerned with auto safety.  Being trapped in a vehicle can be very scary, even if it is not on fire or sinking in the water!  If there isn’t a fire or water hazard, you may have time to dial 911, and then have some options to try different windows or a hatch for escape.  But if there is a hazard, you might not have the time to do anything but unbuckle yourself and escape, and any precious seconds wasted are fewer seconds you have if you also need to unbuckle your children!

amazonhammerThere are dozens of tools at Amazon and other stores to help you escape.  Most are of a “Hammer” design, requiring a good swing or flick of the wrist to crack the glass.  These may work well enough if you have the room, but getting a good swing if your car is filling with water may not be so easy.  These types of crashes are not very common, but may claim the lives of hundreds of occupants a year.  Plus, your husband doesn’t really want a bright yellow or pink plastic hammer!  That’s a clear sign that you might not have had him in mind when buying the gift;-)

There’s an easy solution, a spring-loaded punch.  Even one from a hardware store should do the job.  But good quality ones can be somewhat expensive, while cheap ones can jam or break easily.  Hardware store tools do make good gifts for Father’s Day, but why stop there when you can have something better shipped to your door?  We’ve found the ultimate Father’s Day or birthday gift for Dad, something that will also give YOU peace of mind in case of a vehicle entrapment crash!

Recommended-150pxEnter the StatGear T3 Tactical Auto Rescue Tool.  Even the name has Father’s Day written all over it. It’s the black steel equivalent of a Swiss Army knife for escaping an automobile.  You get not only a covered, spring-loaded center punch for breaking glass easily, but you also get a hardened stainless steel hook blade for cutting seatbelts and harness straps, a serrated high carbon 440C stainless steel knife blade and an LED light with replaceable batteries.  And best of all, you get something that LOOKS like a gift for Dad, even if you also had yourself and your kids in mind when you bought it!  

It’s frequently on sale for under $35 at Amazon, which is about the same as a high quality hardware store spring-loaded center punch that doesn’t give you any extra features.  It’s a great gift for any driver. Designed by a NYC Paramedic, it should be handy for first responders as well. This is definitely not a tool that should be easy for kids to reach, as with any sharp edged knife or tool. The closing mechanism on the knife is similar to some other knives and requires caution for adults as well.

 StatGearT3TacticalToolTest

Want to step it up a notch?  Go for the StatGear Auto Survival Kit for $59.99. In stock, and free delivery by Father’s Day if you order soon!  It includes the T3 Tactical Auto Rescue Tool.  Plus, you get other auto emergency and first aid essentials, including a re-usable glow stick, nitrile gloves, gauze, an assortment of bandages, instant ice packs, alcohol prep pads, tape, antibiotic ointment, tweezers and emergency drinking water.  It’s all packaged in a nice, padded black case with velcro to strap around a large sun visor or fits into a center console, door pocket or glove compartment.

And it works, too!  Smashes tempered auto glass more easily than a hammer style escape tool and cuts through harness material like butter.  I tested it out and took a look at the Survival Kit in this video:
 

 
Now maybe some would prefer that pink one for themselves or for their teen driver?  No worries, StatGear has you covered as well.  The SuperVisor XT is a compact model that attaches easily to any sun visor.  It’s not a spring-loaded design like the T3, but it does include a seatbelt/harness cutting tool.  And if pink isn’t your thing, it comes in black, green and orange, too.

Hopefully, you won’t need any tool to break a window if your car goes into the water. Wikihow has some additional tips for escaping from a sinking car. For those cases where you do need a tool because of water pressure, door damage or other factors, do keep in mind that hammer and center punch tools won’t always shatter the whole window enough for you fit. They should be able to break it enough to where you can use some other object like the knife blade of the T3 tool, a wrapped fist or a kick with your shoes to clear the rest of the window if necessary.
SuperVisorXT
Thank you to StatGear Tools for providing the kit used in this review.  No other compensation was provided.  All opinions are my own.