Expensive Cars Are Not the Safest: Here’s Proof

When you buy a luxury car, you get the best of everything … including safety, right?

Wrong. The Insurance Institute of Highway Safety recently tested 11 luxury cars and found that almost all of them failed their stringent front end crash tests. So why are these cars still on the market? And why are they considered unsafe by auto insurance companies?

The Results
As you’ve already gathered, the results of these luxury cars were… not good. Of the 11 tested, two got the best rating and one was rated acceptable. The rest of the vehicles — from automakers such as Mercedes, BMW, Lincoln, Volkswagen, Audi, and Lexus — were all rated below “acceptable” on the test.

It is worth noting that many of the cars that failed this one test did excellently with full-on collisions to the front, back and sides, as well as handling rollovers with a minimum of injury. These cars are far from rolling death traps and the last thing automakers want to do is kill their customers.

IIHS vs. the Federal Government
In this case, the IIHS was engaging in a different type of test than the federal government. The government generally hands out crash test ratings based on those full-on, front-end collisions. In other words, the classic “car slamming into a barrier at 40 miles an hour” that we all think of when we hear “crash test.”

This IIHS study was different. Insurance companies obviously spend a lot of time studying car accidents and where safety measures can go wrong. Their test was based on a different kind of collision. They’re running a “partial front end” test: Instead of the whole car crashing into the barrier, only one part of the front end slams into it. This better simulates, for example, a car slamming into a telephone pole, or wandering across the yellow line and clipping another vehicle.

Why doesn’t the government test for this kind of collision? The short answer is that it simply hasn’t regulated for it yet.

Looking Towards the Future
At the same time, car safety is a constantly improving science. Car fatalities for 2011 were the lowest that had been tallied since the government started keeping records. That caps seven years of constant drops in car fatalities.

Still, this is an important reminder: Just because something is expensive doesn’t mean that it’s automatically better. If you’re shopping for a new car and are concerned about safety, do the following:

– Find out what safety equipment is standard, and what safety equipment is “optional.” Go for the options, every time: It will lower your car insurance rates.

– Check the safety ratings of the car from both the federal government and independent authorities such as Consumer Reports and the IIHS. This is a science, after all, and scientists look for repeatable results.

– Remember that cost does not equal quality, and that cost also may not include safety features depending on the vehicle.

Once again, luxury cars are unlikely to be your coffin. But nonetheless, it’s always worth remembering that a high price doesn’t equal a high safety rating.

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