Check fuel economy and safety ratings
Safety ratings and the fuel economy of your vehicle are two very important aspects to consider when making a purchase decision. The first will help you save a lot of money… the second may save your life.
Vehicle fuel economy
When looking at cars on a dealership lot, there should be fuel-economy figures printed on a window sticker on the vehicle itself. These figures are estimates based on a test created and administered by the Environmental Protection Agency (epa.gov). They will allow you to objectively compare the fuel economy between one vehicle and another. It is important to remember that EPA estimates are often higher than the average person will generally get under normal driving conditions, but, because they are very consistent in how they are administered, you’ll be able to make a car-to-car comparison very easily.
For most people, fuel economy is important… but to really understand it, a simple example may help. If you have one car that gets 15 MPG and another that gets 30 MPG, your actual driving cost for each car will be significantly different. The net is this: you’ll fill up twice as often with the car getting 15 MPG than with the car getting 30 MPG, meaning that you are covering less distance per each gallon you pay for in the 15-MPG vehicle. So, while you’re technically paying the same price per gallon, in reality, you’re paying double that price with the 15-MPG car because the gallon lasts half the distance that the 30-MPG car’s gallon lasts Next time you’re at the pump, think about that!
Vehicle safety ratings
When shopping for a new or used vehicle, be sure to pay attention to the number of different elements that affect the overall safety capability of any car you are interested in. Crash tests, for example, are a very important aspect of the overall safety rating of automobiles. Crash tests are conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Through the IIHS (iihs.org) and the NHTSA (safercar.gov), you can review crash-test ratings for most vehicles that you are considering. The following are a number of different factors that impact a vehicle’s overall safety rating:
Accident Avoidance Capability: The best accident is not having one in the first place. Because of this, a car’s ability to help you avoid an accident is a big part of the safety provided by a vehicle (and an important part of the vehicle’s safety rating). Unfortunately, statistics do not reflect the many times that an accident is avoided due to the safety features built into a vehicle. A number of factors contribute to a vehicle’s accident-avoidance capability: with how the car brakes and handles under emergency conditions being the most important factors. The five main safety features that contribute to a vehicle’s Accident Avoidance rating are: ABS, EBD, BA, VSC, TRAC, and, additionally, Electronic Power Steering. These are explained below:
ABS (Automatic Braking System): ABS pumps the breaks electronically faster than a human can when there is risk of the brakes locking up. This can help slow the car faster than a human could in an emergency.
EBD (Electronic Brakeforce Distribution): Based on the “load” in the vehicle, both passengers and cargo, sensors determine how to balance brake pressure in order to give the best quality braking performance.
BA (Brake Assist): Depending on the manner in which you “step on the brake pedal,” a computer senses whether the stop is a “normal” stop or a “panic” stop. In the case of a “panic” stop, the full force of the brakes is applied even if the brake pedal isn’t pushed all the way to the floor.
VSC (Vehicle Stability Control): VSC is the most recent advancement in active accident avoidance systems. VSC is designed to “sense” when the vehicle seems out of control at which point it will “temporarily” take the throttle away from the driver (slow down even if your foot is on the gas pedal) and apply the brakes selectively in order to bring the vehicle back into the intended direction. Essentially, sensors in the vehicle are designed to detect situations where the vehicle seems to be going in a direction unintended by the driver and correct the problem.
TRAC (Traction Control): TRAC is designed to sense when there is a significant difference in the rotation of the wheels on one side of the vehicle as opposed to the other. When the difference in rotation speed is detected, the brakes are applied to slow the “faster spinning wheels.”
Electronic Power Steering: Electronic Power Steering makes turning the wheels on the vehicle much easier than manual steering systems. The ease of turning the wheel can add to the safety of the vehicle.
Rear-Impact Protection: Rear-end accidents, while being low on the scale of causing severe injury and death, do have a fairly high injury rate – with “whiplash” neck injuries constituting a good portion of rear-end accident injuries. Because of this, the design of a car’s head restraints and seats is an important factor in how severe whiplash injuries can be; the better the design of seats and head restraints, the less likely that a passenger in the vehicle is to experience a neck injury.
To find information on how good the rear-impact protection of a vehicle is, visit the IIHS website (www.iihs.org). The IIHS regularly conducts evaluations of head restraints and also performs rear-impact tests. These tests are designed to measure how well the seat-design of different cars will protect drivers against neck injuries due to the whiplash effect.
Rollover Resistance: According to safercar.gov, approximately one-third of all vehicle-related deaths are caused by rollover accidents. These types of accidents occur when the vehicle rolls following a collision or loss of control by the driver. Rollover accidents are also more common with SUVs and pickup trucks due to the height and weight of the vehicles.
The NHTSA has created a rating system called the Rollover Resistance Rating (RRR) to help people compare the rollover safety features of differing vehicles. There are two key factors that comprise the RRR: a vehicle’s static stability factor (SSF) and how the vehicle performs in a Dynamic Rollover Test. The SSF is, effectively, an indicator of how “top-heavy” a vehicle is, and hence, how likely it is to roll over versus remaining on its wheels. The SSF is developed using a number of weight and mass factors and height and length measurements of the vehicle.
The Dynamic Rollover Test is a simulation of a driver making a series of sharp and quick steering moves – simulating steering movements that happen in an emergency-driving situation. Vehicles that “tip over” fail the test and have their rating downgraded. RRR ratings can be found at www.safercar.gov.
Blind Spots: Blind Spots are the areas behind and to the sides of a vehicle that the driver cannot see. Many accidents and injuries occur each year due to blind spots and, tragically, many children are killed or injured because a driver backing up simply cannot see them. A large contributing factor to this statistic is that some larger vehicles, such as large sedans, pickup trucks and SUVs, have significant blind spots. When shopping for a car, it is important that you check the blind spots of all vehicles you are considering for yourself. Some vehicles come standard with backup sensor device that can tell a driver that a person or object is behind the vehicle. There are others that offer backup cameras that actually show the area behind the vehicle when backing up. Both of these are very important safety features (especially on larger models) and may be required in the future on all new vehicles.
Other safety considerations
All-Wheel Drive/Four-Wheel Drive: For those who live in areas where snow and ice are a concern, cars with all-wheel drive and four-wheel drive are far superior to two-wheel drive.
Airbags: Airbags are safety devices that deploy in the event of a head-on/side collision with an object or vehicle. They help protect against serious injury and death in the event of this type of accident. On newer cars, airbags are a standard feature. Older vehicles may not have them.
Power-Window Switches and Locks: Power-windows are a potentially risky design-model for children. A child who is leaning out an open window may kneel on the power-switch and close the window on themselves, potentially causing injury or even death. It is important that you pay attention to your window-lock control in the driver’s seat when transporting younger kids.
Child Safety Seat Compatibility: If a seat doesn’t work with a Child Safety Seat and you have small children, then no matter how much you love the car, it isn’t for you. Make sure you check the seats in the vehicle for compatibility with Child Safety Seats.
Automatic Crash Notification: Another excellent safety feature is Automatic Crash Notification. This feature alerts a monitoring service that your car has been involved in an accident without you having to do anything.
Security Systems/Keyless Entry: Though not necessarily safety systems in regard to accident prevention or protection, the keyless entry capability and key alarm features are both valuable options that should not be discounted.
New Safety Technologies: Edmunds.com has an excellent article on new technologies that are available on newer cars. These include Tire Pressure Monitoring, Adaptive Cruise Control, Lane Departure Warning, and a number of others. This article can be found here.
Lastly, it’s important to remember that no car is safe that you don’t feel comfortable driving… no matter how much you like the vehicle.