Safety doesn’t always rank extremely high on consumers’ lists when it comes time to purchase a new automobile. There are often more important things to think about. How well does it perform? Is it good on gas? Do the seats recline? What’s the warranty? Does the stereo bump? How much does it cost, and can you throw the floor mats in for free? These are all questions that typically pop up before some of the most important: How did it do in safety testing? What sort of safety features does it come equipped with? Are there any major safety recalls on the past couple of model years? These are questions which often go overlooked, but can actually save lives in the long run. For those of you who are concerned with safety but sometimes get blinded by other, more impressive features and the excitement or anxiety that comes with buying a new vehicle, here are a few tips on how to buy a safe car.

Crash Test Scores

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has upped its standards for the 2011 model year regarding its crash-testing procedures. That doesn’t mean you should stray away from earlier-model vehicles, it simply means don’t be surprised when a lot fewer vehicles achieve the overall five-star rating that the government was once very generous in handing out. Still, the NHTSA is the best source for finding out how a particular vehicle scores when being bludgeoned in every way shape and form. You can find scores for vehicles at their website: www.nhtsa.gov. The other source for independent crash testing is the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). Though not as stringent in their scoring procedures, they do offer rollover and roof strength tests and offer very reliable testing procedures. Their scores can be found at: www.iihs.org.

Powertrain

There are certain times when you need more power. If you’re buying a truck or SUV, for example, and need to do some heavy towing or hauling. But in terms of safety, the less powerful, the less acceleration and speed. Less power doesn’t necessarily make the vehicle safer, but it can make less experienced drivers like teenagers much less apt to want to be the next Mario Andretti on a major highway or lay a ½” of rubber on the road at takeoff. Less power also usually equals better fuel efficiency, which should appeal to everyone. One thing regarding powertrain that actually can make a vehicle safer is four-wheel and all-wheel drive. These features not only increase traction in inclement weather like snow, ice, and heavy rain, they can increase handling for the vehicle as well. This is one of the main features that’s worth the extra coin and couple mpg loss in fuel efficiency to have.

Safety Features

There are a few specific things to make sure your new vehicle comes equipped with to enhance its safety rating. The first couple are going to be offered in just about every vehicle available today – antilock brakes and airbags. The question is the quantity of airbags and the type of antilock brakes. Four-wheel disc brakes are going to be better than the standard front disc/rear drum type. Having four-wheel antilock disc brakes will only enhance braking power. As for airbags, it all falls back on the old real estate saying – location, location, location. Most all will have front driver’s and passenger’s airbags, standard. But where you want to look for the added protection is from side-curtain airbags, rear side-curtain airbags, driver’s-side knee airbags, and active front head restraints. All of these features will add to your safety if you ever have the misfortune of a major accident. Also look for vehicles with amenities like hill-start assist, stability and traction control, and blind-spot warning systems, not to mention the new laser-guided collision mitigation systems.

Recalls

Recalls are recalls for a reason. They don’t issue recalls because one or two vehicles suffered a problem. They only get to the point of recall if the problem is recurring. Having recalls taken care of on your vehicle is extremely important in avoiding such disasters as accidents, fires, and electrical shock. You will usually be issued a letter from the manufacturer should your vehicle need to have a recall fixed, or your dealer will have the information when you take it in for service. But remember, everyone is human and humans make errors. These errors can be clerical, resulting in you not receiving notice of your recall. Periodically checking for recalls on your particular vehicle is always a good idea. You can search for recalls by recall number or vehicle make and model at the NHTSA’s Recall Website. You can also sign up for recall alerts from www.safecar.gov.

Price

Many people think that safety in a vehicle is a market cornered by the luxury automakers. Not true. Several economical vehicles have scored higher in crash testing by both the IIHS and NHTSA than vehicles costing astronomical prices. Some very safe models for very affordable prices include:

2011 Ford Fiesta          New Model MSRP: $13,320

2011 Hyundai Sonata          New Model MSRP: $19,195

2011 Volkswagen Jetta          New Model MSRP: $14,995

However, if you’re looking for safety and luxury, you can take a gander at these models:

2011 BMW 5 Series          New Model MSRP: $45,050

2011 Audi  A4          New Model MSRP: $32,300

2011 Infiniti M37          New Model MSRP: $47,050

Or perhaps your safety concerns are geared more toward the SUV category. If so, have a look at these top models:

2011 Acura MDX          New Model MSRP: $42,580

2011 Chevrolet Equinox          New Model MSRP: $22,745

2011 Volvo XC60          New Model MSRP: $32,400

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