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What Safety Features Should You Look for in a Used Car?


Buying a used car can save you a considerable amount of money, while providing you with a vehicle that can reliably get you where you need to be. Whether you require a pickup truck to haul supplies for your job or are seeking a minivan to take your kids to sports practices, there’s almost certainly a used vehicle that matches your needs. Before you head to the nearest used car dealership, it’s worth taking a moment to think about what safety features your “new” ride ought to have. We’ve come up with a list of safety features that we recommend looking for.

Antilock Brake System

An antilock brake system (ABS) allows you to steer your vehicle while braking heavily. Without an ABS, your car’s wheels can stop turning (or lock up) if you hit the brakes, especially if you’re travelling on a slippery surface, such as an icy road. Your vehicle will keep travelling in the direction it was originally moving in, and you will not be able to control it. In some cases, the car may even spin out or slide. ABS keeps the wheels from locking up, so you can stay in control and maneuver around obstacles if needed.

Head-Protecting Side Airbags

There are two types of side airbags: head- and chest-protecting. A chest-protecting airbag deploys from the door trim or seat of your vehicle. In most cases, it will offer substantial protection to the driver or passenger’s chest and torso, but most likely will not protect the head or neck. Most vehicles that are equipped only with chest-protecting side airbags scored no higher than “poor” in Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) crash tests. To best protect yourself and your passengers, search for a vehicle with a dedicated head-protection bag that is stored above the vehicle’s side windows.

Many vehicles come equipped with a curtain airbag that covers the rear and front side windows, keeping people in the car from hitting their heads and protecting them from debris during a crash. A curtain airbag may also serve an additional purpose by preventing someone from being ejected from the vehicle if it rolls after a collision.

“Smart” Front Airbags

Since 1998, new vehicles have been required to have front airbags. Most models offer a multistage system tailored to the front occupants. These “smart” airbags can detect the weight and presence of the person in the driver’s seat and passenger seat. They can also detect whether safety belts are worn by the car’s front-seat occupants, allowing some cars to sound a warning if a passenger doesn’t have their seatbelt fastened. The system adjusts the deployment of the front airbags in a crash to reduce the chances of injury to children or drivers of smaller stature. Prior to smart airbags, many smaller drivers were injured due to the force of an airbag’s eruption.

Electronic Stability Control

An electronic stability control (ESC) system helps you keep your car on course during a turn. ESC reduces the risk of skidding or sliding out of control, particularly on slick surfaces or when making a sudden turn. If you’re driving a top-heavy and tall vehicle, such as a truck or large SUV, ESC may also reduce the risk of rolling over. Keep in mind that most car manufacturers have a proprietary name for their ESC systems.

If there’s any doubt as to whether a prospective used car at the lot has an ESC system, ask the dealer to check the vehicle’s specifications. All light-duty trucks and cars made in the 2012 model year or later are required to have a standard ESC system, but many manufacturers began adding the system prior to the government mandate.

Safety-Belt Features

Seatbelts are one of the most important safety features in your car. When fastened properly, they can reduce the risk of severe injury and prevent you from being ejected from your vehicle during a crash. Make sure that a used car’s seatbelt fits comfortably across your chest instead of your neck, to prevent injuries. Experienced personal injury attorneys suggest looking for a vehicle with a safety-belt-pretensioner. The pretensioner immediately locks the seatbelt in place during a crash, removing any slack. This allows the passenger to gain the maximum amount of protection from the deploying airbags.

Most newer vehicles offer force limiters as a companion feature to pretensioners. They limit the amount of force that your seatbelt exerts on your chest as it tightens due to the pretensioner. After the seat belt fully tightens, the force limiter allows the belt to loosen slightly to allow you to breathe.

What Else Should You Look for in a Used Car?

While the features listed above are some of the most important safety systems you should look for when purchasing a used vehicle, there are several additional factors to stay aware of. Be sure to:

Finding the Best Used Car for Your Needs

We hope that this list of essential vehicle safety features helps you find a used car that is ideal for you. If you have any questions about a car’s specifications, ask the dealer for clarification or have the vehicle inspected by a trusted mechanic.


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