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How Safe Is Your Used Car?


How Safe Is Your Used Car?

Data from the world’s largest survey of real-life crashes has been analysed to rate the safety performance of some of New Zealand’s most popular used cars.

The 2005 Used Car Safety Ratings (UCSR) study has analysed the crash performance of used cars in over 1.1 million crashes on New Zealand and Australian roads. Safety ratings have been calculated for 288 common makes and models. The ratings are being released in New Zealand today by Land Transport NZ and the New Zealand Automobile Association (NZAA).

The study shows significant differences in crash performance between vehicles of a similar size and value. Full results are available on the Land Transport NZ website, www.aa.co.nz and www.landtransport.govt.nz.

Driver protection

The 2005 study evaluated which vehicle makes and models were likely to provide ‘better than average’ protection to their drivers in a crash, and which were likely to provide lower levels of protection.


Vehicle types included in the study range from small and family cars to four wheel drives and light commercial vehicles. Of the 288 models included in the study, 66 were rated ‘worse than average’, with 40 of these ‘much worse than average’, while 83 vehicle models were rated ‘better than average’, with 32 of these ‘much better than average’.

No light cars had a driver protection rating of ‘better than average’ and only one large car had a ‘worse than average’ rating. Many of the better performing vehicles were later models, showing the benefits of modern safety technology such as airbags, side-intrusion beams, seatbelt pre-tensioners and crumple zones.

Driving the worst performing vehicle means that, on average, you stand a 30 per cent greater chance of serious injury or death in a serious crash than if you are in the best performing vehicle.

Harm to other road users

Of the 288 vehicles included in the survey, 261 were also rated on the amount of harm they are likely to cause to other road users in the event of a crash. The rating has been expanded this year to include drivers of other vehicles and unprotected road users (pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists). In the past these ratings only included the drivers of other vehicles.

Of the 261 models rated, 64 vehicle models were found likely to cause ‘less harm than average’ to other road users, with 21 of these likely to cause ‘significantly less harm than average’. Fifty-one vehicle models were likely to cause ‘more harm than average’ to other road users, and 24 of these were likely to cause ‘significantly more harm than average’.

No medium, small or light cars were rated as causing ‘more harm than average’ to other road users. All large 4WD vehicles in the study were found likely to cause ‘significantly more harm than average’ to other road users. Commercial vehicles also performed poorly.

It should be noted that good driver protection performance does not have to mean poor performance in terms of harm to other road users, and vice versa. Although larger vehicles tend to have better ratings than smaller vehicles for driver protection, many smaller vehicles still have good driver protection ratings. Consumers should decide what type of vehicle they wish to drive and then consider choosing one of the best-rated vehicles in that category.

The Used Car Safety Ratings study was first undertaken in Australia by the Monash University Accident Research Centre (MUARC) in 1990, and has since grown to be the largest of its type in the world. New Zealand authorities commissioned MUARC to combine crash data from the two countries in 2000, and ratings incorporating New Zealand crash data were produced for the first time last year. Data used for the 2005 results was collected between 1987 and 2003, on vehicles manufactured from 1982 to 2003.

Minister for Transport Safety Harry Duynhoven said he encouraged drivers to use the guide to help them buy the safest vehicle possible.

“It was with pleasure that I launched this valuable guide in New Zealand last year, and I’m pleased to see the first update released today. The guide is an informative, easy to use booklet that contains easily understood information on what should be the most important variable when buying a used vehicle – safety.”

NZAA Technical Advice Manager Jack Biddle agreed that safety should be high on the priority list for used vehicle buyers.

“The updated Used Car Safety Ratings provide real life crash data which should be used as a guide on a vehicle’s ability to protect its occupants in a crash. Overall, the older the car the higher the risk of injury. We encourage people to look at their needs and consider all the relevant information, including these ratings, before making a vehicle purchase.”

Copies of the 2005 Used Car Safety Ratings booklet are available at no charge from AA Centres across the country. Booklets can also be ordered from any Land Transport NZ office, or by ringing 0800 699 000. The 2005 ratings are also available on the AA’s and Land Transport NZ’s websites: www.aa.co.nz and www.landtransport.govt.nz.


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