Yellow Volvo C30 electric during a crash test in safety center
A Volvo C30 during a crash test

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) recently tested a group of 2013 midsize cars using a variety of tests, including some that have been reworked to provide more accurate results. One of the more surprising grades issued by the IIHS was to the 2013 Toyota Camry, walking away with a ‘poor’ rating. Just last year, the 2012 Camry was named a Top Safety Pick by the same test group and receive a 5 star rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). While we are not quite sure what changed so drastically between Toyota’s 2012 and 2013 models, the IIHS did develop a new frontal crash test. The IIHS said the new test was designed to “replicate what happens when the front corner of a car collides with another vehicle or an object like a tree or utility pole.” It makes sense to test a car in this manner.

The 2012 Toyota Prius V did not fare well either, also receiving a ‘poor’ rating. One tier up, the 2013 Chevrolet Malibu and the 2013 Hyundai Sonata were given a ‘marginal’ rating. With a rating of ‘acceptable’ were the 2012 Ford Fusion and the 2013 Nissan Altima. The best rating, ‘good’ was awarded to the 2013 Honda Accord and the 2013 Suzuki Kizashi. These crash test ratings are important for the car industry because it allows an unbiased group (IIHS is a non-profit) to test their products without endangering customers.

Safety data is also gathered from traffic accidents but by testing the cars in a controlled environment allows auto makers to pinpoint features of the vehicle that may help prevent an accident from ever occurring. These ratings are also very important to consumers and insurance groups. When shopping for a new, most people will consider safety as one of their top deciding factors. This is especially true for families. Consumers are also aware that insurance companies pay attention to safety ratings. When determining what a customer’s yearly premium will be, the type of car they drive will play into the final decision. This is because of liability.

If an insurance company provides coverage to a car with a poor crash test rating and a proven history of unreliable safety features, chances are claims will be much higher than a car that has better ratings.

What’s the Point of a Crash Test?

It is true that one of the reasons crash tests are conducted is to see how well a vehicle fares in the situation of a crash but there are also other situations that put the car to the test. Some tests look at how efficiently cars avoid a crash and others look at the potential rollover risk of a vehicle. Joe Nolan, senior vice president of the IIHS, says that, “The way the car protect you is what we evaluate in the crash test.” But it’s important to know the various crash tests different groups and how that affects your safety. Just because your potential new car has a high crash test rating does not mean that it will never crash. The ultimate responsibility still lies with you as a driver and consumer to make smart, informed decisions.

The Crash Tests

The IIHS conducts several different tests that measure a car’s performance. The ones that consumers are likely most familiar with include the front, rear, and side impact tests. These tests are meant to simulate what it would be like for your car to run into static barriers and other large vehicles. These hard hitting crash tests are done on each side of the car to find out if there are any weaknesses. Crash test dummies can be used during this portion because researchers don’t only want to measure how the car would perform but also what affect a crash of that type could have on the human body. Seat belts and head restraints are also measured in this portion of the testing.

Another important test that is taken

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into consideration by insurance companies and should be looked at by potential buyers is the rollover ratings. While the visual impact of a car slamming into a concrete wall might influence car buying decision, the reality of an accident happening that way isn’t as high as swerving to avoid a deer and then finding yourself rolling down an embankment. A rollover test measures how well a vehicle’s body holds up when flipped numerous times. The more the body stays intact, the better protected the driver is inside.

Electronic stability control (ESC) is another area tested by researchers. This refers to the car’s electronic sensors and their ability to recognize an accident. This is more common in newer models. One of the final tests of a car is the low speed crash test. This is meant to simulate your average fender bender and how well your bumpers can sustain damage. You may find this frivolous but a bumper can be an expensive part of your car to fix so choosing a car with a tough bumper could save you money.

How Your Insurance Company Feels About Your Car

When you look at new cars and an insurance company looks at new cars, you both have one thing in common: the desire to save money. While the consumer may be looking at the upfront cost and its correlation to long-term safety, an insurance company is looking at how a vehicle’s safety can impact long term savings. A car that performs well in crash test ratings will likely have fewer claims over its lifetime, both in average number and amounts. This is great news for a new car buyer as well. If you have a clean driving record and drive a safety performance car, you can easily see your rates lowered or just stay at a nice even level. Overall, we can all agree that a safe car is a better car for everyone but a car can only be safe as its driver.

Image: Flickr.