Finding a safer used car

Later model trade-ins can be found fitted with many of the latest high-tech safety gear. Here’s what to look for.

By Jim Gorzelany
CTW Features

One of the benefits of buying a new vehicle is the ability to acquire a model that’s fitted with the latest safety features, particularly the current array of high-tech accident avoidance gear. But what about those who by chance or by choice are limited to the used-car lot?

It may take some patience to find a particular combination of what were originally standard and/or optional features, but much of this potentially life-saving technology can be found in a wide range of two- and three-year old used cars and crossovers that are just coming off lease (as well as older luxury vehicles where the technology initially debuted). Active crash-avoidance systems are most often found in higher trim levels within given model lines, where they may have been bundled with other (often unrelated) features as part of option packages.

For starters, look for cars equipped with a Bluetooth mobile phone interface, which became widespread across many model lines by the 2009 model year. The most basic setup affords a hands-free way to make and take calls — something that’s required by law in 14 states and many big cities — while many can also stream music and internet-based music services directly from a smartphone to the vehicle’s entertainment system. A few are able to read text messages aloud and allow the driver to answer (often by pre-set replies), likewise on a hands-free basis.

Back-up cameras have been offered in mainstream models since around 2010 and help make pulling into or out of a driveway or parking space easier and safer by displaying a bumper-height image of what’s immediately behind the vehicle on a dashboard (or rear-view mirror) display while in reverse gear. Some can detect and warn of obstructions, cars or pedestrians, while others use multiple cameras to display a 360-degree bird’s eye view of what’s around the vehicle. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in Washington, D.C. says backup cameras reduce the likelihood of a backover crash by at least 46 percent.

Blind-spot warning systems are fast becoming available on all but the least-expensive models on a showroom floor, and can be found on a wide range of cars from 2013 and later. Here, warning lights on the side mirrors indicate when another car is in an adjacent lane to the side and/or rear, with the system further giving an audible alert if the driver engages the turn signals to pass.

Adaptive cruise control is another high-tech upgrade that’s become more widely available the last few years. It enables a motorist to maintain both a set speed and distance from the traffic ahead; the car will brake and accelerate as needed to maintain either or both. Some higher-end luxury car systems can even operate in low-speed stop-and-go traffic in a step toward autonomous-driving cars.

Usually offered in conjunction with adaptive cruise control, and likewise migrating from luxury to midrange models around 2013, a forward collision warning system alerts the driver with audible and visual warnings if the car is closing in on another vehicle or other obstruction too quickly at higher speeds. But the most effective systems go a step further and will automatically apply the brakes at full force if the driver isn’t reacting quickly enough to help avoid, or at least minimize the effects of a collision.

A few automakers, including Volvo and Mazda, offer “City Safety” variations on this technology, which automatically engage the brakes to avoid a collision with another vehicle at slower speeds to help avoid rear-end collisions in urban traffic.

The Highway Loss Data Institute in Arlington, Virginia found that forward collision warning systems with auto-braking can reduce rear-end crashes by 39 percent and help reduce bodily-injury liability claims from between 14 and 32 percent.

© CTW Features


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