Buying a safe second-hand car

In last month’s column we looked at the intrinsic safety of the all wheel drive Subaru Forester and some of the physics behind its five-star ANCAP safety rating. But for those of us without the cash for a new car wouldn’t it be a good idea to gather the data from millions of crashes and pick up a used car that has earned its reputation in the real world rather than in a controlled laboratory crash.

Since 1987 the Monash University Accident Research Centre has collected the data on 349 different models involved in over 3.2 million crashes in Australia and New Zealand and the most recent results are now available and worth a read.

Back in 2006 I recall that for the first time in its history MUARC identified a ‘standout’ car, the Subaru Forester (1997-2002). In that review the two criteria used to rate vehicle models were crashworthiness (how much protection the vehicle provides the driver in a crash) and aggressivity (how badly the vehicle is likely to harm other road users, including pedestrians and cyclists in a crash).

For 2008 those two parameters have been combined for the first time and the data will also include injuries to the drivers of other vehicles to reflect the “Total Community Impact” of a vehicle’s safety.

As crashworthiness has a greater bearing on injury it is also weighted more in the safety rating calculation, though aggressivity is still considered. All of the results are then calculated back to compare the study vehicle against an average vehicle. The age and gender of the driver are also factored out in the analysis. I assume that the statisticians have almost created a genetically pure strain of driver like a laboratory rat and it’s all done with a computer somehow.

Paradoxically, the more that a particular model crashes and the longer that model has been on the road, the more confident the statisticians can be of the data. This should mean that owners of high performance and turbo powered vehicles like the Mitsubishi Cordia should be able to have more faith in their rating, though not much faith in their car. And all of this data will be likely to affect a vehicle’s value on the second hand market just as a five-star ANCAP rating is like a lottery win for makers such as Ford and their current G Series Falcon.

For 2008 the best rated car was the 04-06 VW Golf/Jetta and it was considered to be 8.6 times safer than the worst rated car which was the 82-90 Daihatsu Hi-Jet. In general, newer cars rated better than older cars with the average risk of death or injury in a 2005 model being 30% lower than a 1990 vehicle. Newness was not always a good thing though as the 02-06 Hyundai Getz rated poorly.

So for 2008 what other affordable used cars does the Monash University UCSR recommend?

Peugeot 306 94-01 (from $5K)
VW Golf 99-04 (from $10K)
Mazda 3 03-06 (from $13.5K)

Holden Vectra 97-03 (from $5K)
VW Passat 98-05 (from $15K)
SAAB 9-3 98-02 (from $13K)
Subaru Liberty 99-03 (from $12K)
Mazda 6 02-06 (from $12K)

Commercial Van:
Ford Transit 01-05 (from $15K)

People Mover:
Mitsubishi Nimbus 99-03 (from $9K)

Compact 4WD:
Honda CRV 97-01 (from $8K)
Subaru Forester 97-02 (from $7K)

But if you can afford it and you’re after a family-sized car that’s made in Australia with a five-star ANCAP safety rating I’d recommend a 2008 G Series Falcon.

Safe motoring,
Dr Clive Fraser

For: Roomy, quick and a five-star ANCAP safety rating.

Against: Does Ford really care about its customers?

This car would suit: Orthopaedic surgeons because they know about the laws of physics.

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    Medical Motoring is an online record of the articles written by Dr Clive Fraser and published in the Australian Medicine magazine by the Australian Medical Association.