Car Buying

Are Small Cars Just as Safe in a Collision?

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author photo by Doug DeMuro June 2015

There are a lot of benefits to small cars. They're easy to park, they're good on fuel and they usually cost less than larger vehicles. But many drivers avoid smaller cars, fearing that they won't hold up as well in a crash as larger ones. So is that true? Are small vehicles actually less safe in collisions than larger ones? We have the answer.

Past Small Cars

In the past, there's no question that smaller cars were less safe than their larger counterparts in accidents and collisions. The reason: Before cars were designed with advanced crumple zones, airbags and other safety features, smaller cars simply had less metal and steel around passengers to keep them from getting hurt in an accident. While many older cars are unsafe by modern standards, it's small cars -- and their occupants -- that fared the worst in crashes.

Today's Models

Today, however, everything has changed. Advances in engineering, improvements in safety features and better technology have enabled automakers to vastly increase the crashworthiness and safety of smaller vehicles. The result is that a wide range of small cars now earn excellent crash-test scores from both the nonprofit Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) and the federal government's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. And that's important, because both of those agencies submit vehicles to a number of crash tests before divulging their scores.

For proof, consider this: IIHS's list of Top Safety Picks for 2015 includes more than 20 different small cars. It even includes two subcompact models: the Chevrolet Spark and Honda Fit. Likewise, NHTSA's list of cars with 5-star safety ratings includes a series of subcompact and compact vehicles.

It's not just crashworthiness where small cars are making strides, however. Small vehicles are also increasingly offering the latest safety technology, gadgets and features, boasting equipment such as forward-collision warning, blind spot monitoring, backup cameras and more -- all of which can help make you a safer driver and avoid a collision altogether.

Unsafe?

So are smaller vehicles unsafe? We certainly don't think so. Of course, if you have a high-speed collision with a heavy truck or a brick wall, you might fare worse in a small car than in a larger one. But in most collisions, we suspect smaller vehicles will hold up just as well as larger ones. In other words: In general, there's no longer a reason why you should have to fear for your safety just because you're driving a smaller car.

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.
Are Small Cars Just as Safe in a Collision? - Autotrader