Car Safety Buyers Guide

Download buyers guide

Buying a safe car is one of the most important purchases you’ll make and choosing the right one can be difficult. Whether you plan to buy a new or used car, make safety a priority so that you and your family are protected.

Download an easy-to-read copy of the Buyers Guide (pdf) to assist you when choosing your next car.  It contains lots of useful information and a handy checklist to assist you when comparing the safety between vehicles.

You want your car to look great, but that doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice safety or buy the most expensive model. The TAC has put together this guide to help you make an informed decision about the cars you are considering.

What information is available?

Cars are given a one to five star rating (five being the highest), based on results from the Australasian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP) or Used Car Safety Ratings (UCSR) report . ANCAP ratings are based on data from tests performed in a crash lab and UCSR are based on data from real world crashes. Both ratings are available on, as well as safety feature specifications.

Whether you are looking for a new or used car, consider the safety features that are available and look for cars that have the best safety performance – the more stars the better!

When choosing your next car you can use the Comparison List function on to compare the car’s safety features and star rating with other cars in the same class.

Why is it important to consider safety?

In a crash situation, different cars offer varying levels of occupant protection. Car manufacturers can include different combinations of features which impact on the safety of your car. These safety features are generally grouped into three categories:

  • Crash avoidance – features that help you to avoid being in a crash like electronic stability control(ESC)anti-lock braking systems (ABS) and traction control
  • Crash protection – features that help to protect you in a crash like seat belts, curtain airbags and crumple zones.
  • Driver comfort – features that add to the safety of your car by making driving easier and more comfortable, such as seat height adjustment.

Driver and passenger protection depends on your car’s structure, its driver and passenger restraints and related protection devices working together as an integrated system.

Essential safety features include:

  • A strong cabin that can withstand severe impacts.
  • Crumple zones outside the cabin to absorb the forces exerted in a car crash.
  • Effective restraints for drivers and passengers to reduce the likelihood of injury from interior features of the car, to prevent ejection from the car and to reduce the potential for soft tissue injuries such as whiplash.


Other things to consider.

Small, medium and large cars.

Larger sized cars generally provide better protection in a crash than smaller cars, passenger vans and commercial vehicles. Broadly, car size groups are classified as:

  • Light cars: generally less than 1,100kg and an engine capacity of 1.5 litres or less.
  • Small cars: generally 1,100-1,350kg.
  • Medium cars: generally 1,350-1,550kg.
  • Large cars: generally more than 1,550kg.

A minimum weight of around 1,350kg is recommended.

Regardless of the size of the car that you choose, make sure you consider the safety features that are available and look for cars that have the highest star ratings in their category.

New versus used.

Some new cars are not necessarily safer than older models and many used cars rate well in terms of safety. If you are looking for a used car, look out for cars that are fitted with key safety technologies such as curtain airbags and electronic stability control. If you are looking for a new car, consider cars with these features as standard or option up if possible.

Young drivers are more likely to buy older used cars but they also have a much greater risk of crashing than more experienced drivers, particularly in the first 12 months of solo driving. This makes the selection of their first car even more important. If you are helping your child to purchase a car, ensure that safety is a priority.

Second hand doesn’t have to mean unsafe because fortunately, there are a range of second hand cars that are affordable and provide good levels of protection.

Search for safe used cars.


4WDs are currently very popular, and while they may be seen as safer alternatives to smaller cars, it is important to be aware that they might handle differently to a passenger car. The higher seating position provides better vision for the driver, but the higher centre of gravity in relation to the wheel base can affect car handling in certain circumstances.

4WDs are more likely to be involved in roll over crashes, which are a major cause of spinal injury. Typically these crashes involve a single 4WD leaving the road on a straight section or curve and rolling over.

If you are considering a 4WD, look for safety features that can help you to avoid a rollover such as electronic stability control (ESC) and to help protect you in the event of a rollover such as curtain airbags, side airbags, strong roof support pillars and other valuable crash avoidance and crash protection features in your 4WD.


You might think black is chic, but a white car could save your life! A Monash University Accident Research Centre study demonstrated that white cars had the lowest crash risk in all types of light conditions (night/overcast/bright sun), while black cars were more likely to be involved in a crash, particularly in daylight hours. Opt for white or lighter colour cars to improve your visibility on the road.