For many car shoppers, safety is a big concern. Whether it’s crashworthiness or safety features, most drivers rate safety somewhere near the top of their automotive priority lists. But as you know if you’ve test-driven a modern car lately, not all car safety features are created equal: Some drivers don’t like the intrusiveness of lane-keeping assist, while others swear by it. Some insist they don’t need forward-collision warning, while others call it a lifesaver.
Which features are actually worth spending money on? We’ve listed several that are worth some extra cash, whether you’re looking for a brand-new luxury car or a used vehicle for a first-time driver.
Few features have done more to advance automotive safety in the last few decades than anti-lock brakes (also called ABS, for anti-lock braking system). Here’s how they work: When you need to panic-stop in a car with traditional brakes, those brakes often lock, causing the vehicle to skid sometimes out of control or into the very obstacle you were trying to avoid. When you need to panic-stop in a car fitted with anti-lock brakes, however, the system automatically pulses the brake for you, keeping the brakes from locking up. The result is that you won’t skid or slide, and you won’t need to remember to manually pump the brakes, a difficult task when you’re trying to stop quickly. While nearly all modern cars have standard ABS, used-car shoppers should make sure their vehicle is equipped with the feature.
Although many drivers swear up and down that they don’t need a backup camera, the simple truth is this feature makes it far easier to back up than turning your head and using your mirrors. Backup cameras can save lives, especially the lives of small children (or pets) who may not realize the dangers of standing near a moving vehicle. While you won’t find this feature on most older cars, we think it’s worth paying a little extra for if you find it on the options list of a new model.
We’re big fans of airbags in general, whether they cover the front, side, knee or just about anywhere else. But we especially like side-curtain airbags, which can deploy during a side impact to ensure your head doesn’t smash against a hard object during the collision. Some side-curtain airbags even deploy in a rollover accident to prevent you from hitting your head on twisted metal or other damaged parts. While most modern cars include side-curtain airbags as standard equipment, we believe so deeply in the feature that we’d happily pay extra for a newer or more expensive used vehicle that has them over one that doesn’t.
Dual Front Airbags
Although dual front airbags have been mandated in all cars since the 1995 model year, drivers searching for used vehicles should absolutely ensure that any car they’re considering has this feature. There’s a reason dual front airbags were mandated: Though they won’t stop you from crashing or keep your car on the road, they can dramatically reduce injuries once you crash, as they’ll keep your head from smashing into the steering wheel or the dashboard. It’s a technology we’d never go without, whether you’re looking for a cheap daily driver or a car for a new teenage driver.
Rear Cross-Traffic Alert
You’re probably familiar with this situation: You’re backing out of a tight parking spot, you can’t see what’s coming and you roll backward ever so slowly. Then, it happens: A car quickly comes up behind you, and you consider yourself lucky that you didn’t collide with it. With rear cross-traffic alert, this situation is a thing of the past. The feature warns you if a vehicle is coming up from behind while you’re backing out of a parking spot, taking guesswork and uncertainty out of the equation. Although we could do without some other modern safety features, this one is worth every extra penny.
Although stability control has been mandated by the government since 2012, many cars built before that date don’t include the feature. That’s a shame, and we’d specifically look for a vehicle that includes stability control if we were searching for a used car. The reason? Stability control is an impressive active car safety feature that helps keep your car on its intended path by braking one or more wheels. And it’ll kick in at just the right moment to help prevent you from skidding, sliding or losing control. It’s one of those features you might not remember you have until it saves your life, and it’s very much worth paying a little extra money for.