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Safest cars in the US

Discover and compare the safest cars in the US.

It’s impossible to predict what’s down the road, but driving a safe car can help you walk away in the event of an accident.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has a 5-star rating system to help you identify just how safe your vehicle is. Plus the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) to get a more detailed look at how well your vehicle scores.

What are the safest cars in the US?

Take a look at these top-selling 2018 models that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) rated 5 stars.

Type of carModel and make
Passenger cars
  • Honda Civic
  • Toyota Camry
  • Ford Focus
  • Kia Optima
  • Nissan Altima
  • Honda CR-V
  • Toyota RAV4
  • Ford Escape
  • Subaru Forester
  • Kia Sportage
Pickup trucks
  • Ford F-150 Super Crew
  • Chevrolet Silverado 1500
  • GMC Sierra 1500
  • Honda Ridgeline
  • Honda Odyssey
  • Kia Sedona
  • Chrysler Pacifica
  • Ford Transit Connect

How to use NHTSA and IIHS safety ratings

There are four points covered by NHTSA ratings and seven by IIHS. Knowing what those points are and how they’re evaluated can help you better compare how safe the cars you’re looking at are.

NHTSA safety ratings

  • Overall combines the frontal crash, side crash and rollover ratings into one, 5-star rating. This rating was instated in 2011.
  • Frontal crash is a combination of the front driver and passenger ratings. The ratings are based on a head-on collision between two similar vehicles moving at 35 mph.
  • Side crash combines side barrier and side pole ratings. Side barrier ratings are based on a collision between the rated vehicle while it’s stationary and a barrier moving at 38.5 mph. Side pole ratings are based on a collision with objects such as a light pole or a tree.
  • Rollover measures the amount of resistance the vehicle has to roll over in a loss-of-control scenario.

IIHS safety ratings

IIHS uses a letter-system for all ratings except for front crash prevention: G for good, A for acceptable, M for marginal and P for poor. Front crash prevention is evaluated on a point system wherein one point is basic, two to four is advanced and five to six is superior.

  • Frontal crash ratings are based on three tests. The moderate overlap frontal test involves a head-on collision simulation of two vehicles of similar size moving at slightly under 40 mph. The driver-side small overlap frontal test is a simulation of a head-on collision with objects such as a light pole or tree on the driver side of the vehicle. The passenger-side small overlap frontal test simulates the same as the driver-side small overlap frontal test, but for the passenger side of the vehicle.
  • Side crash testing evaluates the likelihood of injury, head protection and the structure and safety of the vehicle’s cage. The side-impact crash is simulated with a barrier ramming the side of the vehicle at 31 mph.
  • Roof strength is tested and measured in a strength-to-weight ratio. To earn a rating of good the roof must not be crushed more than five inches by four times the vehicle’s weight.
  • Head restraints and seats have geometric and dynamic ratings. To receive a good overall rating, the vehicle must receive passing ratings from both portions.
  • Front crash prevention technology is ranked among three tiers. The lowest rank is basic, the second is advanced and the third is superior. Points are earned based on autobrake performance and if the vehicle has forward collision warning or not.
  • Headlights are evaluated based on the coverage of the beams on a straightaway, gradual left and right curves and sharp left and right curves.
  • Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children (LATCH) evaluation is a measurement of how easy it is to properly install a child-safety seat.

    Your guide to NHTSA and IIHS safety ratings

    Tips for finding a safe car in the US

    • Look for a NHTSA rating of at least three stars. Most manufacturers strive to make sure vehicles have at least a four-star safety rating. Even older models are being held to the most up-to-date ratings.
    • Compare similar vehicles. NHTSA indicates frontal crashes should only be compared against vehicles of the same type, but other ratings can be compared across classes. IIHS recommends not comparing any ratings across vehicle types.
    • Look for airbags. All cars legally must have safety features like seat belts, but airbags in the front, side and back seats aren’t necessarily standard.
    • Look for a car with Electronic Stability Control (ESC). ESC allows you to break individual tires, making it easier to maneuver the car and avoid a crash.
    • Get your car inspected. The only way to make sure the car you’re buying is safe is to have it inspected.

    Options abound in the four- and five-star range for all types of cars and budgets, so don’t worry about safety limiting your choices.

    How can I finance a new car?

    • Secured car loan. This car loan uses your vehicle as collateral in case you can’t pay it back and tends to come with competitive rates compared to other options. Most car loans are secured.
    • Unsecured car loan. You don’t risk losing your vehicle but you’ll need near-perfect credit to qualify. You can also borrow more than your vehicle’s value to cover extra costs.
    • Personal loan. You can get an unsecured personal loan or back it with other assets to borrow as much as you like to buy a new car.

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    What car types are there to consider?

    NHTSA divvies vehicles out into three different categories for you to consider. Passenger cars, sport utility vehicles (SUVs) and pickup trucks and vans are the three classes, but passenger cars are broken down into several subcategories.

    Figure out which type of car you want, and from there you can just compare the safety ratings of vehicles in the same class.

    Passenger cars

    Assistive technology and safety features have improved greatly over the years, so newer cars are likely to have an advantage when it comes to IIHS and NHTSA ratings. You can find well-rated vehicles of all price ranges in any of the subclasses.

    A car falls into one of these subclasses based on its curb weight.

    • Mini. 1,500–1,999 lbs
    • Light. 2,000–2,499 lbs
    • Compact. 2,500–2,999 lbs
    • Medium. 3,000–3,499 lbs
    • Heavy. 3,500 lbs or more

    Some popular overall 5-star passenger cars include the Honda Civic, Toyota Camry, Ford Focus, Chevrolet Volt and Nissan Altima.


    NHTSA doesn’t further subdivide SUVs into weight classes as it does with passenger cars, but you can usually find them labeled as compact, midsize and large.

    The Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4 and Kia Sportage are considered compact SUVs and are also 5-star NHTSA rated and IIHS Top Safety Picks. In the midsize range, the Honda Pilot and Toyota Highlander also hold a five-star rating and Top Safety Pick.

    Pickup trucks and vans

    With the Ford F-Series scooping up the award for top-selling vehicle in the US in 2017, there’s little surprise that the F-150 sports a 5-star rating from NHTSA and held a 2017 Top Safety Pick from IIHS.

    Other highly-rated and popular vehicles in the category include the Chrysler Pacifica, Honda Odyssey and Honda Ridgeline.

    Compare car loans

    Bottom line

    Finding the safest car for you and your family depends on what type of vehicle you’re interested in. While NHTSA and IIHS ratings tell you generally how well a specific model and make does in a crash, the only way to ensure your car isn’t defective is to get it inspected before you buy it.

    To learn more about buying and financing cars, check out our guide.

    Frequently asked questions

    What are the deadliest cars in the US?

    According to the IIHS, the deadliest the Chrysler 200, Dodge Avenger 2WD, Nissan Maxima and Nissan Altima have some of the highest death rates in the US.

    Keep in mind it’s more difficult to measure death rates than safety since those numbers rely on data from real-life experiences rather than crash tests.

    Are bigger cars safer?

    Generally, yes. However, thanks to developments in safety technology, small cars are safer than they ever have been. Check out our top picks for the best small cars of 2019 to explore your options.

    Are new cars safer than old cars?

    Yes, according to a report by the NHTSA. The report found that the older your car, the higher the fatality rate for drivers that get into an accident. Newer cars are made with more assistive technology and safety features over time.

    Will I be charged different auto loan rates on a family car?

    A family car will usually be an SUV or minivan. Most lenders finance family cars the same way they’d finance a smaller car. Your car insurance rates might be affected though.

    Are safer cars more expensive?

    Not necessarily. It’s possible to find a car with 4- or 5-star safety ratings under $20,000. Check out our guide to the cheapest cars of 2019 to explore your options.

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