The first thing to look for in any car is reliability. All the safety features available does the driver no good if the car is going to mechanically fail at some point.
Good old fashioned seat belts are still the best available safety feature on any car. But of course the driver and the passengers need to use belts for them to be effective. Seat belts with the pretension feature (which tightens the belt when the brake is depressed or sudden deceleration is detected) in combination with an airbag is an excellent system.
A car with crumple zones is also a safer car. Crumple zones certain parts of the car which are designed to absorb the impact of a car crash by controlled deformation. That is the frame parts, for example, bend outward so the elegy is not transmitted to the passenger’s compartment.
Front driver’s and passenger’s side air bags have been standard equipment on all new cars since 1998 and on all light trucks since 1999. Sensors hooked to an on board computer sense a front collision and set off the bags. The bags expand in a few milliseconds then immediately start to collapse. Air bags have saved literally thousands of lives. One drawback is that the bags have the potential to cause harm to children or smaller adults or to anyone not wearing a seatbelt. As a generally rule children under 12 should be in the rear seat in an appropriate car seat system and using a seatbelt. Also any rear facing child car seats should never be in front seats of a vehicle equipped with front air bags.
Adaptive front air bags, first introduced in 2003, and standard equipment in new cars made after the 2007 model year. Now the air bag systems detects the presence, by weight, or seat position for the driver and front passenger, and deactivates the air bags to diminish the chance of injury to drivers positioned too close to the wheel, or too small to absorb the impact of an air bag.
Also now available are side air bags. Side-impact air bags for front-seat passengers are also in widespread use. Some auto makers offer side air bags for rear passengers. Side air bags are small bags that deploy from the front or rear door or side of the back seat area. Designed to cushion the thorax, but most are not designed to provide head protection.
Most new models now include an additional “side curtain” bags that deploys from above the windows and covers the front and rear side windows to prevent head injuries and to guard from airborne wreckage. The curtain bags also remain inflated longer to keep people from being thrown out of the car during a rollover or a side crash.
Anti-lock brakes or ABS
Anti-lock brakes prevent wheels from locking up during braking. Locking the front wheel makes it nearly impossible to control the car, particularly on slippery surfaces. Anti-lock brake systems stop this from happening through sensors at every wheel and a computer that make the most of braking action at each individual wheel to prevent lock-up. ABS lets the driver keep control while braking, so that the car can be move around a problem, if needed. Some drivers, not used to ABS, may be worried as the pulsing feel is communicated through the brake pedal. The idea is to push the brake pedal hard and let the system do the work.
This electronic control system restrictions wheel spins at take-off so that the wheels have the most traction. Traction control is predominantly useful when starting off in slick conditions. Some traction-control systems work just at low speeds, while others work at every speed. Many traction-control systems use the car’s ABS to briefly brake a spinning wheel. This directs power to the other drive wheel. Some may also stifle the engine power, and help shift the transmission, to avert the spin.
Electronic stability control or ESC is the next step in traction control. ESC helps maintain the vehicle on its planned course in a turn, to avoid skidding. ESC uses a computer connected to a sequence of sensor that detects wheel speed, angle of the turn, any sideways movement, and rotation. If the car goes outside the intended path, the stability control system briefly brakes one or more of the wheels and may also reduce engine power to pull the car back on track.
Without a doubt cars have many more safety features than they did just a few years ago. Looking for any or all of these features, when buying a new or used car is an excellent idea for the potential buyer.