America’s Safest Cars – Which Ones Are the Best?

October 5, 2011

By Terry Smiljanich:

Safety is one of the major concerns for anyone considering the purchase of a car. But how do you go about rating a car’s safety? Based purely on the laws of physics, size matters.  A 5694 pound Cadillac Escalade in a collision with a 2668 pound Mini Cooper is no contest. As Sancho Panza says in Man of La Mancha: “Whether the stone hits the pitcher or the pitcher hits the stone, it’s going to be bad for the pitcher.” In the long run, however, big is not always safer. The Hummer H3, for example, was big and heavy, but had a mediocre safety record.

Different Ratings

There are many ways to rate a car’s safety. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), for example, takes many factors into consideration, including roof strength, secondary protections, and actual safety record. The resulting ratings by the IIHS for 2011 cars list eleven large cars, eleven small cars, twelve midsize cars, and 12 midsize SUV’s as the “Top Safety Picks” for 2011, but doesn’t rank the cars within each category.  Just about every car manufacturer has at least one, and often several, models in the “Top Safety Picks.”

For the new 2012 models, however, the IIHS has listed the top five models on its “Top Safety Pick.”  They are:

  1. Chevrolet Sonic;
  2. Ford Focus;
  3. Honda Civic;
  4. Audi A6;
  5. Volkswagen Passat.

Forbes Magazine, using its own criteria, ranked the BMW 5 Series, the Cadillac CTS, the Subaru Legacy, and the Hyundai Sonata as the safest cars on the road.

CWN Safety Picks

Consumer Warning Network decided to take a simpler approach. We looked at the IIHS information, compiled by its Highway Loss Data Institute. We reviewed the data to find out which cars came out on top, regardless of size or cost, based on actual insurance claims for personal injury, collision and medical payments.

We looked at average claims instead of total claims. By using this approach, we were able to even the playing field between cars that sell in high volume– which would be expected to have higher total insurance claims– and those that sell in low volume.

Between the years 2008-2010, the answers are somewhat surprising.

Bodily Injury

Between 2008 and 2010, the five cars with the lowest average bodily injury insurance claims, as compared to all other cars, are in order:

  1. Chevrolet Corvette;
  2. Subaru Outback;
  3. Volkswagen Jetta;
  4. Chevrolet Equinox 4DR;
  5. Acura TSX.

Yes, the light, fast Corvette actually has, on average, lower insurance claims for bodily injury. This means that Corvette owners present lower average claims to their insurance companies for bodily injury. There is most probably a good reason for why this is so. Corvette owners are more likely to “baby” their special car, and less likely to drive their Corvette on long trips or in heavy commuter traffic. As for the others on the list, a combination of safety features results in lower average bodily injury claims.

During that same period, the most dangerous cars when it comes to bodily injury claims are in order:

  1. Dodge Avenger;
  2. Mitsubishi Galant;
  3. Mitsubishi Eclipse;
  4. Chrysler Sebring;
  5. Ford Mustang.

Each of these cars is more than twice as dangerous as any of the cars in the top list in terms of bodily injury claims. Again, driving habits of typical owners may play a part in some of these results.

Overall Safety

Looking at all aspects of insurance claims, from personal injury to vehicle damage, how do cars stack up during the 2008-2010 period?  The top five cars overall are as follows:

  1. Chevrolet Corvette;
  2. Chevrolet Equinox;
  3. Ford Edge 4DR 4WD;
  4. Dodge Nitro 4DR 4WD;
  5. Ford Explorer 4DR 4WD.

Coming in close behind these leaders are the Honda Accord and the Acura TL 4DR.

Conclusion

There’s no sure fire way to come to a final answer on car safety, with so many variables to consider. Regardless of safety features, size, interior reinforcement, and strength of materials, however, when it comes to which cars are resulting in fewer average claims for actual bodily injury and damage to a vehicle, insurance statistics provide one good way of coming up with an objective standard.