Car safety ratings guide | finder.com
carcrashonthestreet_gettyimges_250x250

Car safety ratings guide

We value our editorial independence, basing our comparison results, content and reviews on objective analysis without bias. But we may receive compensation when you click links on our site. Learn more about how we make money from our partners.

What that 5-star rating really means.

A car’s safety rating is one of the most important factors to consider when comparing different makes and models. Understanding how they work and which organizations you can trust can help ensure you invest in a car that meets your needs.

What determines a car’s safety rating?

A car’s safety rating is determined by a series of crash tests and its safety features. There are two organizations both automakers and consumers rely on to test and rate car safety: the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). These set the standards for how cars are rated and analyze different criteria to paint a full picture of how well a car can keep its occupants safe.

NHTSA safety ratings

After a series of crash tests, the NHTSA bases its ratings on your likelihood of being injured — with a 5-star rating going to the safest vehicle possible. This typically means that the vehicle has scored “good” on multiple crash tests. NHTSA ratings are often included on car comparison websites to help you quickly discern which cars are safest.

IIHS safety ratings
The IIHS conducts more strenuous tests on vehicles, putting them through different scenarios to rate them as one of the following:

  • Poor
  • Marginal
  • Acceptable
  • Good

A car that has good crashworthiness — meaning it limits injury and protects the people inside — is typically given a “good” rating.

Why does a safety rating matter?

The safety rating on a car can be a critical component when it comes to saving your life. According to the IIHS, the driver of a vehicle rated as “good” is 70% less likely to die in a left-side collision than the driver in a vehicle rated as “poor.” When you’re selecting your next car, check its safety ratings from both the NHTSA and IIHS to ensure you’re making a solid decision based on more than just getting a good price at the dealership.

What does the crash test process involve?

It depends on which organization you get your car safety ratings from. The NHTSA and IIHS both conduct comprehensive testing, and knowing your car ranks well with both can give you some added peace of mind during your shopping experience.

NHTSA crash tests

The NHTSA bases its score on three to four tests depending on the build of the car:

IIHS crash tests

Because the IIHS doesn’t rely on government funding, it’s able to conduct more strenuous tests under more conditions. When giving a car a rating, it will conduct these seven tests to ensure a car is safe to drive:

Shopping for a car locally?

Test drive a new car in your area Test drive a used car in your area

What car safety features are considered necessary?

The NHTSA states that standard safety equipment like air bags, seat belts and a tire pressure monitoring system are three factors you should take note of when inspecting a car. Driver assistance technology like forward collision warning, lane departure warning, rearview cameras and automatic emergency braking are also helpful in keeping cars safe — and many new cars come standard with one or more of these.

The IIHS doesn’t have any specific recommendations, but it does have information on these features as well as headlights, speeding and distracted driving on its website. You can also find details about your state’s seatbelt laws. Even if you aren’t legally required to wear your seat belt, they saved nearly 15,000 lives in 2017 according to the NHTSA.

Ready to buy? Compare car loan providers

Updated September 21st, 2019
Name Product Filter Values Minimum credit score Loan term Requirements
300
Varies by lender
Must be a US citizen with a current US address and employed full-time or have guaranteed fixed income.
Apply with a simple online application to get paired with a local auto lender. No credit and bad credit accepted.
600
Varies by lender
Fair to excellent credit, an income source, US citizen or permanent resident, 18+ years old
Find an offer and get rates from competing lenders without affecting your credit score.
300
Varies by lender
Must be employed full-time or have guaranteed fixed income of at least $1,500/month and be a current resident of the US or Canada.
Get connected with an auto lender near you, even if you have bad credit.
Good to excellent credit
2 to 7 years
Good or excellent credit, enough income or assets to afford a new loan, US citizen or permanent resident, 18+ years old
Quick car loans from $5,000 to $100,000 with competitive rates for borrowers with strong credit.
Fair or better credit
From 2 years
Car must be less than 10 years old with fewer than 120,000 miles. Current loan must have a balance between $5,000 and $55,000 and at least 24 months left in its term.
Lower your monthly car payments and save on interest through a fast and easy online application process.
510
Varies
Income of $2,000+/month, vehicle has less than 150,000 miles and is no older than 8 years, loan balance is between $10,000 and $100,000, debt-to-income ratio is less than 50%
Connect with a network of over 150 lenders to refinance your car loan.
Good to excellent credit
Varies by lender
18+ years old, good to excellent credit, US citizen
Compare multiple financing options for auto refinance, new car purchase, used car purchase and lease buy out.

Compare up to 4 providers

Bottom line

Understanding how a car’s safety is determined is critical when you’re shopping for your next vehicle. To learn which cars rate highest, you can read our guide to the safest family cars. And when you’re ready to buy, compare your car loan options to ensure you’re getting the best deal available to you.

Frequently asked questions

Was this content helpful to you? No  Yes

Ask an Expert

You are about to post a question on finder.com:

  • Do not enter personal information (eg. surname, phone number, bank details) as your question will be made public
  • finder.com is a financial comparison and information service, not a bank or product provider
  • We cannot provide you with personal advice or recommendations
  • Your answer might already be waiting – check previous questions below to see if yours has already been asked

Finder.com provides guides and information on a range of products and services. Because our content is not financial advice, we suggest talking with a professional before you make any decision.

By submitting your comment or question, you agree to our Privacy and Cookies Policy and Terms of Use.

Questions and responses on finder.com are not provided, paid for or otherwise endorsed by any bank or brand. These banks and brands are not responsible for ensuring that comments are answered or accurate.
Go to site