used car safety
Buying a Car June 21, 2019

Buying a used car? The #1 thing to look for

Our car is usually one of our biggest purchases, and a lot of thought often goes into it.  With over 85,000 used cars available on Trademe, there’s also plenty to choose from. SUV or wagon? Diesel or petrol? Less kms or newer model? Will the boot be big enough for the dog? How many cup holders? There is however one crucially important factor which can be easily overlooked, yet it could literally save our lives. So how do we ensure we’ll be safe as houses when driving off in a used car?

Car safety rating

It’s not always the newer, more expensive cars that are necessarily safer. Safety is also not obvious at first glance, so the most simple starting point is to check out the car’s safety rating. Find the latest listings at 5 stars being the highest rating. We are 90% more likely to be killed or seriously injured in a 1-star rated vehicle than a 5-star rated vehicle; and 60% more likely to be killed or seriously injured in a 2-star rated vehicle than a 5-star one.

Year of model

While it’s important to note that newer cars aren’t necessarily safer, there are modern safety features that can help avoid a crash. Safety features to look for include side airbags with head protection, additional occupant airbags, three-point safety belts and ISOFix for any child seats. More modern features include lane keep assist, lane departure warning, autonomous emergency braking and electronic stability control.

Condition of car

Regardless of ratings and year, safety of a car can also be compromised if it’s in poor condition. Things to check include:
– rust (especially structural corrosion)
– shock absorbers
– tyres: tread and pressure
– safety belts
– brakes

A car in good condition will also require less maintenance, meaning less ongoing costs. A pre-purchase inspection is always a good idea in general, but will also help check for safety and mechanical reliability.

WoT about the WoF?

A Warrant of Fitness is designed to ensure all cars are roadworthy. But a current WoF doesn’t necessarily mean the car is safe, since it’s issued based on the condition at the time it was inspected. A WoF is also only a very basic safety check.

Does size matter?

When comparing safety purely on size, it’s true that larger vehicles are safer than smaller ones. This is based on simple physics. A small car crashing into a small car is going to do less than damage than the same small car crashing into a big car. However the age of the cars (and their modern safety features) is important too – a smaller new car with all the features may provide more protection than an old, heavy 4WD.

Does it matter if you’re black or white?

Despite what Michael Jackson has to say, in the car world, it DOES matter if you’re black or white. When it comes to safety, colour matters because it’s all about visibility. In research carried out by Monash University which analysed vehicle colours from crash data, white cars came out safest. White cars are 12% less likely to be involved in an accident than black cars – with cream, yellow and beige ranked closely behind.



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