Discover and compare the safest cars in the US.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), traffic deaths rose in 2016 for the second year in a row with a total of over 37,400 fatalities. It’s impossible to predict every change on the road, but driving a safe car can help you walk away in the event of an accident.
The NHTSA has a five-star rating system to help you identify just how safe your vehicle is. You can also supplement NHTSA ratings with information from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) to get a more-detailed look at different segments of safety, such as rear impact and roof strength.
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, five-star rating. This rating was instated in 2011.
- Frontal crash is a combination of the front driver and passenger ratings. The ratings are based off 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 off a collision between the rated vehicle while it’s stationary and a barrier moving at 38.5 mph. Side pole ratings are based off a collision with objects such as a light pole or a tree.
- Rollover measures the amount of resistance the vehicle has to rollover in a loss-of-control scenario.
IIHS safety ratingsIIHS 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 off of 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 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 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. In order 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.
A selection of top-selling five-star-rated 2018 vehicles
Take a look at these top-selling 2018 models that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) rated five stars.
- Passenger cars. Honda Civic, Toyota Camry, Ford Focus, Kia Optima and Nissan Altima.
- SUVs. Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4, Ford Escape, Subaru Forester and Kia Sportage.
- Pickup trucks. Ford F-150 Super Crew, Chevrolet Silverado 1500, GMC Sierra 1500 and Honda Ridgeline.
- Vans. Honda Odyssey, Kia Sedona, Chrysler Pacifica and Ford Transit Connect.
Tips for finding a safe car in the US
- You would be hard pressed to find a reason to settle for a car with an NHTSA rating of three stars or less. Most manufacturers strive to make sure vehicles have at least a four-star safety rating.
- NHTSA increases safety standards and will retroactively lower a car’s rating if it doesn’t meet those new standards. This means older models are being held to the most up-to-date ratings.
- 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.
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.
What car types are there to consider?
NHTSA divvys 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.
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 five-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 five-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 five-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.
What financing option are available for a safe car in the US?
When you’re getting ready to invest in a new car remember that the safety of your vehicle potentially impacts more than just you in the event of a collision. With the staggering number of motor vehicle deaths every year, it’s crucial that each of us do our part to contribute to safer roads. You can improve your passengers’ and your own chances of survival by driving a car with a high safety rating.
Few of us can buy a car outright, even an unsafe one. Luckily whether you’re buying a used car, or you’re going all-out for a new one there are financing options available. Remember that just because a car is older doesn’t mean the standards to which its held are different. A five-star vehicle from 2011 meets the same qualifications as a five-star vehicle from 2018.
Once you’ve found your ideal safe car you can start comparing your financing options, and we’ve got just the tool to help you.
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