The Truth About Crash Test Ratings – Are You in Danger?

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In 2012, the latest year fo which data is available, 33,561 people were killed in U.S. car crashes. Surely several thousand others suffered severe, life-changing injuries.

I’ve asked thousands of new car shoppers how they chose their vehicle. Almost all said they liked the way it looked and handled, and its utility met their needs. Almost no one mentioned occupant safety. Apparently they never considered it; those folks give “crash test dummies” a whole new meaning!

All new cars have an impressive list of safety features. As a result, consumers seem to think they’ll ride safely in a bubble-wrapped cocoon, no matter what they drive. But that’s nonsense. Some cars are much more crashworthy than others in the same vehicle-type, size, and weight category.

Two organizations conduct new-vehicle crash tests and rate their relative safety based on the results.

• The U.S. government’s National Highway Traffic & Safety Administration (NHTSA) conducts 3 kinds of tests: flat-out head-on frontal crashes at 35 miles per hour; side impact crashes; and rollover resistance tests. You’ll find these results at

• The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) is funded by the insurance industry that pays for the deaths, injuries, and property damage resulting from crashes. Its tests amplify the government’s safety information by covering other frequent types of crashes.

Revealing results of the IIHS crash test

In 2012, the IIHS introduced a “Small Overlap Frontal test,” in which 25% of the car’s width strikes a barrier on the driver side at 40 MPH. A car’s main crush-zone structure that absorbs most of the impact is in the middle 50% of the front end. Small overlap crashes hit the headlight sections near the outer edges, where there’s no significant “crumple zone.”

The 4 test ratings are: Good (G), Acceptable (A), Marginal (M) and Poor (P). You can view results at (Watch the M & P videos. They’re chilling.)

Keep in mind that a vehicle’s ratings are based on its performance compared to that of similar-sized vehicles. But when a large vehicle hits a small one, the intrusion into the occupant compartment will be more serious. (You can’t repeal the law of physics.)

I’m focusing here on the small overlap test because now there’s “a TV screen” in the middle of the dashboard that can easily distract any driver. (For example, I can plug in my iPod, but to change the volume, song, or artist, I must take my eyes off the road to use my index finger or focus on the remote control device.)


As millions more late-model vehicles replace older ones, headlight-to-headlight crashes will occur much more frequently, especially on two-lane roads, with potentially disastrous results.

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Bottom-line: I wouldn’t put my family in a car that rated less than Good or Acceptable in this test if they gave me one for free. But so far this year, over 2 million “crash-test dummies” have opted for less-safe models.

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Below are 24 popular 2014 models that were rated Marginal or Poor in this test, yet have continued to sell in quantity during the first 7 months of 2014. (Note: This list does not include 19 other lower-volume vehicles that also rated Marginal or Poor, including the Audi A4 sedan; VW Beetle, CC and Tiguan; Prius C and V models; Jeep 2-door Wrangler; and Mazda CX-9.)

Smaller Cars
2014 sales IIHS rating
Chevrolet Cruze 166,264 M
Chevrolet Sonic 56,820 M
Ford Fiesta sedan 42,626 M
Hyundai Accent 38,019 M
Kia Forte 43,517 P
Nissan Juke 28,086 P
Nissan Sentra 111,477 P
Nissan Versa Sedan 83,570 P
Toyota Corolla 205,187 M
2014 sales IIHS rating
Buick Encore 27,718 P 
Ford Escape 179,448  P 
Ford Explorer 123,466  M
Honda CR-V 183,214  M
Honda Pilot 61,613  P
Hyundai Tucson 28,103  P
Jeep Grand Cherokee 104,782  M
Jeep Patriot 51,721  P
Kia Sportage 24,368  P
Kia Sorento 60,670  P
Toyota 4Runner 41,955  M
Toyota RAV4 143,731  P
Mid-Size & Larger Cars 2014 sales IIHS rating
BMW 3-Series sedan 69,154 M
Mercedes C-Class 38,734 M
Volkswagen Jetta 89,449 M

There were 2,004,692 sales of these 24 M and P models in the first 7 months of 2014 — an 8.2% gain in a market that was up just 5.0%. They accounted for 20.9% of the 9,604,700 total sales in the period.

I’m convinced their sales would have been much lower if their owners had taken the time to view the small-overlap crash videos. You could probably count the number that did on two hands.

How could any thinking adult watch one, then choose it for themselves or their family? There must be days when the folks at NHTSA and IIHS wonder why they bother to provide life-saving information to new-car buyers who never look at it.

Stripped to its core, life is about choices. A bad new-car choice could be one you’d regret forever. You can’t control what another driver does. So do your safety-check homework before you start test driving.

Don’t be a crash-test dummy!


About the author: James Bragg has been a full-time consumer advocate/activist for over 20 years as the day-to-day, hands-on founder/manager of, a national information service that’s helped over 125,000 consumers buy or lease a new vehicle for the lowest price. His latest book is a revised edition of Letting the Cat out of the Bag: How the Auto Industry “Redesigned” the Dealer Invoice Price When the Internet Arrived, available in paperback and Kindle versions.

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