By Jessica Anderson
Kiplinger's Money Power
9:30 AM EDT, September 30, 2013
At Kiplinger, we think safety trumps fuel economy and reliability when picking a new car. Here's how to pick the safest vehicle and choose which protective features are worth the extra money.
-- Crash tests. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (SaferCar.gov) and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS.org) both conduct frontal, side and rollover tests. Look for a car that scores well on both their tests. NHTSA awards up to five stars for driver- and passenger-side results, as well as five stars for side-impact and rollover safety and a five-star overall rating.
IIHS conducts two frontal tests, both on the driver's side, plus side- and rear-impact and rollover tests, and awards a Top Safety Pick rating to vehicles that score a "good" on four out of five tests. IIHS began awarding a Top Safety Pick+ designation to vehicles that score well on its second, small-overlap frontal test as well as the others.
Along with good crash-test ratings, look for as many airbags as possible. Most new vehicles have six. Knee airbags and rear (back-seat) side airbags are becoming more widely available. The government required electronic stability control for all new passenger vehicles, starting with the 2012 model year.
-- Visibility. The government has delayed a requirement to make backup cameras standard equipment, but NHTSA Administrator David Strickland says the agency will soon add the feature as a "recommended technology," which will prompt more carmakers to offer it. Rearview cameras are now most likely to be offered on luxury cars or a model's top trim level. Honda includes a backup camera as standard equipment on every Accord, Civic and CR-V. Otherwise, you'll pay about $1,500, on average, for a backup camera as part of an options package.
-- Active safety. Studies by IIHS show that among newer technologies, forward-collision warning systems and adaptive headlights help reduce crashes the most. Forward-collision warning systems alert you if you're approaching the vehicle in front of you too quickly. Once found only on luxury models, this feature is now available on the Chevrolet Malibu ($395 with lane-departure warning), Honda Accord (standard on EX-L and higher trims) and Ford Fusion ($995 in a package that includes adaptive cruise control and automatic braking).
Adaptive front lighting systems adjust the headlight beams as you steer, giving you a better view in the dark. Standard on most BMWs and available on most Mercedes-Benz and Volvo models, adaptive lighting is making its way to less-expensive models. It's an option on the Mazda CX-5 crossover and Mazda3 sedan (the price depends on the trim level), and it's standard on the 2014 Mazda6 Grand Touring model.
(Jessica Anderson is an associate editor at Kiplinger's Personal Finance magazine. Send your questions and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. And for more on this and similar money topics, visit http://www.Kiplinger.com.)
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