The Mazda2 is the only 'light'-sized car to gain four stars.
The Mazda2 is the only 'light'-sized car to gain four stars.

Used car safety ratings revealed ... is your car safe?

INEXPERIENCED drivers opting for pint-sized used cars are putting themselves at risk of death or injury due to poor safety ratings.

Popular first cars like the Ford Festiva, Holden Barina, Nissan Micra and Toyota Echo which are more than 10 years old have the poorest protection if involved in an accident.

The information has been revealed by the RACQ as part of the Vehicle Safety Research Group's Used Car Safety Ratings (passenger vehicles built between 1996-2011), which uses real-world data from accidents in Australia and New Zealand.

Only one car within the "light" segment gets four out of a possible five stars - the Mazda2 made between 2007 and 2011.

But there is plenty of good news in larger segments.

Rapid safety standard improvements in the latest cars are having a flow-on effect in the used car scene.

"Regardless of your vehicle needs you can find a safe vehicle option," the RACQ's Steve Spalding said.

"But there is a significant difference in the risk of death or serious injury between the better and the worst performers. It's a nine-fold difference between the best and worst performer as of 1996.

"By any measure a nine-fold difference is a major risk difference."

Australia's fastest growing segments, small cars and SUVs, offer a strong line-up of safe transport.

Vehicles such as the Holden Cruze (2009-11), Mazda3 (2009-11), VW Golf (1999-2011), Mitsubishi Outlander (2007-11), Holden Captiva (2006-11), Honda CR-V (2007-11) and the Ford Territory (2004-11) all have the maximum safety rating.

But Mr Spalding said the ratings highlighted major concern for new drivers hitting the road.

"Crash risk for young divers is high because of their lack of experience and also the vehicles they tend to choose," he said.

"Parents can make a difference. They can help guide the younger drivers towards a safer choice.

"Check the ratings, pick the safest car you can afford that meets your needs - ideally pick a 'safe pick' one cause they are also rates as being less harmful to other road users."

The best safety features to look for when buying a car:

  • Stability control - automatically applies the brakes to individual wheels to help steer the vehicle where the driver intends to go if a loss of traction is detected.
  • Anti-lock brakes - stops the wheels from locking up and skidding, maintaining traction when you need it most. When used can be felt by a pulsing through the pedal.
  • Traction control - works with anti-lock brakes to maintain grip and improve driver control under duress.
  • Brake assist - increases braking pressure in an emergency.

Russell White of driversafety.com.au said if possible the minimum should be anti-lock brakes and stability control to help minimise the accident risk.

But he said one of the greatest features is within the driver,  and being prepared for the unexpected.

"If you are going to buy a car look at some additional driver training skills," he said.

"It's like having a lifeboat…hopefully you never need to use them."

New cars are rated via ANCAP in simulated crashes, but the Used Car Safety Ratings data incorporates records from more than 6 million vehicles in police-reported road crashes between 1987 and 2011.

See the full list here.

See more information on the Used Car Safety Ratings. 

Visit the RACQ for more information.

KEY FINDINGS

  • 37 out of the 51 very poor performing cars were small or light cars and 18 out of 25 light cars scored very poor.
  • Many of the very poor performing vehicles are often driven by novice drivers. Novice female drivers have high exposure to very poor performing small cars.
  • The average risk of death or serious injury to the driver in a crash in a 2011 car is over 30% less than in a 1996 car (and over 70% less compared to pre 1970 vehicles).
  • It is however not the case that all new vehicles are safer - there are still exceptions such as the 2004-2011 Proton Gen 2, 2002-20011 Hyundai Getz.

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