Our RSA expert advises: Think 'safety first' if you are going to buy a new car this year
What's the first thing you consider when buying a car? Price? Fuel economy? Is it how many car seats will it fit in the back? The colour?
I wonder how high up the priority list the safety performance of the car would rank?
If you are in the market for a new car for the family I would strongly recommend doing some research beforehand into its safety performance before buying. After all you, and quite possibly your family, will be spending quite a bit of time travelling around in it and it's also the most dangerous thing you'll do every day.
A really good place to start is Euro NCAP. The European New Car Assessment Programme is a realistic and independent measurement of the safety performance of some of the most popular cars sold in Europe. They crash test vehicles in order to provide accurate information, for anyone buying a car, about the safety performance of cars. And you can compare the safety performance of similar sized cars with your preferred choice.
Euro NCAP was set up in 1997 and it's backed by European governments, the European Commission and motoring and consumer organisations in every EU country. So it's completely unbiased advice.
By law, all new car models must pass certain safety tests before they are sold. But legislation provides a minimum standard of safety for new cars. Euro NCAP sets a higher bar to encourage car manufacturers to go beyond these minimum requirements.
Each car tested is given an overall safety rating with a maximum of five stars achievable. The assessment takes into account scores achieved by the vehicle in four areas: Adult Protection, Child Protection, Pedestrian Protection and Safety Assist. Safety Assist features includes seatbelt reminders, speed limiters and the standard fitment of Electronic Stability Control (ESC). And can I suggest that if you don't know what safety assist features are on your car, please take out the car manual and read up on them. It never ceases to amaze me how many people simply don't know if there is ABS, Traction Control, Electronic Stability Control (ESC) on their vehicle, never mind what they do. And each is designed to help out, especially at this time of year, in icy, wet or even flooded road conditions.
During the bad snow in 2010, we had reports of people taking their cars to mechanics complaining that their brake pedal was acting up. Turns out it was the ABS kicking in when drivers were trying to control the car after skidding. ABS or Anti-Lock Braking is basically traditional cadence braking where the driver pumps the brake pedal to 'brake/ release' the wheels in order to prevent them from locking up and skidding. ABS does all this automatically once you put your foot to the brake pedal and need to stop safely. So please, take out the manual and read up on the safety assist features in your car.
If you're planning on buying a car, especially a second-hand car, there are some pitfalls you need to watch out for. The National Consumer Association has an excellent website with some really useful advice on the do's and don'ts of buying a car. For example, if its second-hand, how do you check the car's history? Was it ever involved in a crash? How do you make sure it's not clocked? Has it an NCT? If you are going through a registered SIMI member, they should be able to do all this checking for you and we would advise you to go through such dealers for peace of mind. But if not, check out the NCA website and see their checklist for buying a car.
Oh and the Euro NCAP star rating for your chosen car can be found at www.euroncap.com