There it is, that shiny new car you’ve had your eye on for the longest time. It finally has a sticker price you can afford, so what’s stopping you from buying it? Before you sign on the dotted line, make sure your dream car isn’t destined to become a death trap for you and your family.
What safety features should you be looking for when shopping for a new auto? Start with these features:
Air bags. Front air bags are standard on all new vehicles. Crash sensors connected to a computer react to a collision by triggering the bags. They inflate instantaneously and deflate immediately after the crash.
Antilock brakes. Prevents wheels from locking up during hard braking, especially on slippery roads. By preventing lock-up, the driver maintains control while braking.
Brake assist. Senses the speed or force with which the brake pedal is depressed. This allows the computer to decide if the driver is trying to make an emergency stop. If so, it boosts brake pressure.
Traction control. Limits wheel spin when you accelerate so that the drive wheels have maximum traction. Some traction-control systems only operate at low speeds, while others work regardless of speed.
Safety-belt features. Adjustable upper anchors for the shoulder belts keep the belt across the chest instead of the neck to prevent neck injuries. Seatbelt pretensioners instantly retract the belts during a frontal impact to keep occupants in the best position for an opening airbag. Force limiters control the force that the shoulder belt builds up on the occupant’s chest.
Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children (LATCH). Built-in lower anchors and tether attachment points for compatible child safety seats to be installed without using the vehicle’s safety-belt system. Required on all new vehicles.
Electronic stability control (ESC). Keeps the vehicle on course during a turn, to avoid sliding or skidding.
Tire pressure monitor. Government regulations will eventually require all new vehicles to have a low tire pressure warning system.
Telematics. By pressing a button the driver can communicate with a central dispatch center, which can track the location of the vehicle on a computer monitor to provide directions or emergency assistance.
Because safety is such a concern, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety announced a new category for evaluating new cars, the Top Safety Pick. The award is based on the performance of vehicles in a range of crash tests.
Gold award winners included the Ford Five Hundred, the Mercury Montego with optional side air bags; the Saab 9-3; the Subaru Legacy; and the Honda Civic four-door. These cars earned high scores in frontal offset and side impact tests. They also received high marks in a test that monitors seat and head restraints in rear crashes.
Silver award winners were the Audi A6, Audi A3 and Audi A4; the Chevrolet Malibu with optional side air bags; and the Volkswagen Jetta and Passat. These vehicles received top grades in front and side crash tests, and they ranked second highest in seat and head restraint ratings.