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Buying a Used Car: How Do You Check Safety Ratings?

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author photo by Doug DeMuro August 2014

There are many aspects of buying a used car that can be challenging compared to buying a new one. For instance, it's often hard to find out used-car gas mileage, since those numbers aren't printed on the window label. It's also hard to figure out what options are included with a used car, since you don't have the original window sticker. Most importantly for shoppers interested in a safe vehicle, it's hard to figure out how the car will hold up in a crash; crash-test data can be difficult to locate for used cars, so we've listed a few tips to help you find it.

Search Engines Are Your Friend

The easiest way to find out how a car performed in crash tests is to simply use a search engine such as Google or Bing. Our advice is to type the year, make and model of your car into the search bar, followed by the acronym "NHTSA" (for National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) or "crash-test rating." For example, your search might be "2010 Toyota Camry NHTSA" or "2008 Honda Accord crash-test rating." One of the first results will likely be an NHTSA page that lists the crash-test rating of this vehicle.

Use the NHTSA Website

If you can't pull up your car's crash-test rating with a search engine, consider going directly to NHTSA's SaferCar.gov Web site. NHTSA has ratings that date back to 1990, so there's a good chance that your car will be included.

If your car isn't included, it's important to note that you may want to try a model year close to your car's; NHTSA doesn't always test every single model year. Instead, the agency often tests a car once, and then -- if it has no major changes over the rest of its life cycle -- there won't be any further testing. For instance, NHTSA likely tested the 2003 Honda Accord in 2003, the year it debuted, and not again in subsequent years.

What If You Can't Find the Rating?

In the case of low-volume cars or certain luxury models, NHTSA sometimes won't conduct crash tests, largely because the government only has so many resources. The NHTSA tries to provide crash-test ratings for cars that will appeal to the widest number of people. Should you be buying a used car that doesn't offer a crash-test rating?

For some car shoppers, this might be a deal breaker, since some drivers likely won't want to consider a car if it hasn't been thoroughly crash-tested. For drivers who will consider such a vehicle, we strongly recommend checking out the car's list of safety features; that way, you know that you'll be protected in a collision even if you're not certain of the car's safety rating.

This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
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Buying a Used Car: How Do You Check Safety Ratings? - Autotrader