What is a car safety rating and what does it mean?

Lady sitting in car smiling

What is a car safety rating?

On the hunt for a new set of wheels? While most of us tend to think about budget and brand first, safety should also be a top priority when we’re looking for a car. In the last 12 months (ended April 2021), there were 1,133 road deaths in Australia. Although car safety features may not be able to prevent accidents, they can help save lives.

The Australasian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP) provides independent safety ratings for vehicles based on the level of protection they may provide in an accident. These ratings can be used to compare the safety between vehicles of a similar mass and are an invaluable resource for Aussies in the market for a new car.

In this article, we’ll explain how an ANCAP car safety rating works and other things you should be mindful of when it comes to car safety.

How are cars given a safety rating?

Since 1993, ANCAP has published safety ratings for thousands of new vehicle makes, models and variants entering the Australian and New Zealand markets. Using a rating system of 0 to 5 stars, ANCAP star ratings indicate how much protection a vehicle may provide to passengers and pedestrians in an accident. They also rank a car’s technological ability to avoid or minimise the effects of a crash.

To determine a rating, ANCAP conducts a range of tests and assessments, evaluating each vehicle against:

  1. Adult Occupant Protection (AOP)
  2. Child Occupant Protection (COP)
  3. Vulnerable Road User Protection (VRU)
  4. Safety Assist (SA)

ANCAP requires every vehicle to meet minimum score thresholds for each star rating. A final star rating is limited by its lowest performing area of assessment.

Reportedly 95% of new cars have been designated an ANCAP safety rating, so it’s rare to find a vehicle that doesn’t have one. You can search for a car’s ANCAP rating on their website.

What is a good ANCAP rating?

When it comes to ANCAP ratings, the more stars – the better. A five-star rating means a vehicle achieved high scores in all the tests conducted and has advanced safety assist technologies.

That said, a “good” ANCAP rating won’t just depend on the number of stars a vehicle has. The ‘Rating Year’ date stamp is also an important factor, as it tells you how current the ANCAP rating is. ANCAP’s testing criteria is only improving with time, so naturally vehicles with five-star ratings and the latest date stamp will offer the best level of safety.

Where can you find used car safety ratings?

ANCAP has only been testing new cars since the 90s, so of course there are older vehicles that won’t have ANCAP safety ratings. The good news is, if you’re interested in buying a second-hand car that doesn’t have an ANCAP car safety rating, you can still find out about the vehicle’s level of safety through Australia’s Used Car Safety Ratings (UCSR).

UCSRs are overseen by the Vehicle Safety Research Group (VSRG) and investigated by Monash University Accident Research Centre. Similar to ANCAP ratings, UCSRs range from one to five stars and indicate how well a vehicle will protect its passengers in the event of a crash. Ratings are calculated from data on injuries sustained by people involved in real-world crashes in Australia and New Zealand. So, a vehicle needs to be involved in quite a few accidents to be accurately rated.

As with ANCAP ratings, the higher the UCSR the lower the relative safety risk.

When buying a car, what should you look for?

Beyond safety ratings, there are a few things you can look out for yourself. According to the Queensland Government, here are a few key ones to keep in mind:

  1. Structural Integrity: Sound structural integrity means you’ll be better protected should you have a collision.
  2. Airbags: Ideally, airbags should be in the front, side, curtain and knee areas of a vehicle for maximum all-round protection.
  3. Electronic Stability Control: Available in newer models, Electronic Stability Control (ESC) detects and reduces loss of traction (skidding).
  4. Anti-Locking Braking System: Anti-Locking Braking Systems (ABS) help you to stop suddenly without skidding or losing control of your vehicle.
  5. Cracks: A damaged windscreen or window may result in some nasty surprises down the track if you hit a bump in the road.
  6. Seatbelts: Most states have regulation requirements around seatbelts when it comes to road-worthy vehicles. So, you’ll want to ensure you have pre-tensioning seatbelts available in the right areas of the car.

When it comes to used cars, ideally you should also get an independent inspection report done. You can also check the vehicle history before you commit to the purchase.

You can search the Personal Property Securities Register (PPSR) to find out if a vehicle has been stolen or written off for less than $5.

Looking for more information on car safety ratings? Learn about Kia’s recent recall or discover our tips for driving safely in wet weather.

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