How to use vehicle safety ratings to help you purchase a car
From IIHS safety ratings to consumer satisfaction surveys, there are lots of reviews that can help you learn more about new or used vehicles.
Car safety ratings, from the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) safety ratings to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) safety ratings, are announced with much fanfare each year. Tests from both of these organizations — the NHTSA and the IIHS — offer a window into how a vehicle might perform if involved in a crash or accident of some kind.
In addition to vehicle safety ratings, there are also other companies, organizations and industry publications that review various pieces of the car-buying puzzle — everything from the dealership experience to fuel economy ratings. And each can help you decide on a new vehicle or a used one. For example, if a used car model you're looking at received a 5-star rating from NHTSA, that can help you compare it to another model that may have a lower rating.
How do you sort through each of the tests and awards? Take a look at these car safety ratings and user experience reviews to get started.
A review of car safety ratings
Know what each of the vehicle safety ratings and performance indicators mean to help you make the best selection for your needs.
- What it is: A Federal government organization charged with enforcing vehicle performance standards to reduce deaths, injuries and economic losses from motor vehicle crashes
- Ratings: 5-star safety rating; evaluates how vehicles perform in crash tests
- Tests: Frontal crash test, side barrier, side pole, rollover
- Safety awards:
- Descending number of stars; those with a 5-star rating are safer than those with a lower score
- Find results: SaferCar.gov
- What it is: An independent, non-profit organization
- Ratings: Poor, Marginal, Acceptable and Good
- Tests: Driver-side small overlap front, passenger-side small overlap front, moderate overlap front, side, roof strength, head restraints and seats
- Safety awards:
- IIHS Top Safety Pick: Vehicles that receive GOOD ratings in the driver-side small overlap front, moderate overlap front, side, roof strength and head restraint tests
- IIHS Top Safety Pick +: The highest possible award for crash safety to vehicles that get GOOD ratings in Top Safety Pick tests, including an ACCEPTABLE or GOOD rating in the passenger-side small overlap front test
- Find results: Top Safety Picks
Additional non-safety awards
J.D. Power Quality and Reliability
- What it is: An analytics and consumer insight company
- Ratings: A combination of quality and dependability scores that include short- and long-term owner feedback
- Quality ratings are given based on responses from the first 90 days of ownership in various vehicle segments
- Dependability ratings are given based on responses after 3 years of ownership in various vehicle segments
- Dealership experience scores include opinions of car buying, repair and maintenance
- Resale ratings reflect depreciated value of vehicles
- Find results: J.D. Power Awards
- What it is: An auto information resource
- Ratings: A standardized road test loop of about 200 cars to compare vehicles against each other in size and class
- Awards: Ratings from A to F for both new and used cars
- Find results: Edmunds Ratings
Kelley Blue Book
- What it is: A review and pricing resource
- Ratings: A year-long evaluation and testing review focusing on data, pricing, reviews and other information
- Awards: Best Buy Awards honor top new model-year vehicles in 16 categories as well as the Best New Model
- Find results: Kelley Blue Book Awards
MotorTrend's Car, Truck and SUV of the Year
- What it is: Annual awards given by MotorTrend magazine
- Ratings: Includes function, fuel economy and driving range; technology and design innovation; value and safety
- Awards: Scored using a 10-point scale; 7 is average
- Find results: MotorTrend's Awards
You can also check out the insurance ratings for the car, truck or SUV you are considering to see how it will affect your premium.