A few weeks ago we looked at some of the latest safety technologies to consider when buying a new car. Of course, not all of us are able or willing to fork out to drive a shiny new vehicle out of a showroom. Often, this means accepting a lack of the latest touch screens, Bluetoothery or heated massage seats.
But Monash University Accident Research Centre associate director Stuart Newstead says that doesn't necessarily mean you have to sacrifice or scrimp on the safety side of things. In fact, while newer cars generally provide better protection in an accident, he says there are some perks in opting for a pre-owned car.
"One of the advantages of buying a used car is there's some accumulated on-road crash experience with that car that we make best use of and get people to buy," he said.
"We produce work looking at used-car safety which identifies the cars that are good and bad. There's sometimes not any one feature that defines a good car or a bad car, there can be a whole combination of stuff."
Thankfully, as Professor Newstead points out, there's information out there as to how used cars perform in accidents.
The Australian New Car Assessment Program has crash test results for new and past models available on their website at ancap.com.au however, it's important to remember these tests are carried out in crash labs, not on the road.
Of more relevance is the Used Car Safety Guide put together by various industry and government bodies and available from the RAC (rac.com.au) or Office of Road Safety (ors.wa.gov.au) websites. The Accident Research Centre analyses information from police reports on more than 5.5 million real-world crashes to determine how particular cars perform in accidents in regards to protecting drivers and other road users.
Cars are then given a rating out of five stars.
The 2014 Used Car Safety Ratings guide will be available from mid-July.
Some vehicles may not be in the guide, either because they are too new or there is not enough data, but should the car you're interested in not be featured, Professor Newstead said there were still some features you should consider non-negotiable.
"You won't find many of the new technologies in the second-hand fleet because they're not even in many of the new fleets at the moment," he said.
"But make sure you buy as many airbags as you can. We've found curtain airbags are particularly important. So if you can get a used car with curtain airbags, fantastic, if you can get electronic stability control on it, fantastic. Try to make sure those features are there because they're incredibly important."
Professor Newstead is sceptical of after-market safety features fitted to older cars, saying most of the technology able to make a tangible difference has to be part of the car's original overall design process to work properly.
"Things like reversing cameras can get put into the car after market but the jury's still probably a little bit out on what the value of those might be into the future because a reversing camera only works if you look at it and you can still miss things; they don't have the endless field of view that you might have as a person.
"It's about what you can buy integrated in the car in the first instance."
The key thing to keep in mind when buying a used car is not making assumptions as to what features or design benefits the vehicle will have. While most new cars can be relied upon to have a four or five-star ANCAP crash safety rating, in the used-car market there will be vehicles available which may be a long way from meeting modern safety standards.
"We'd like to have all of the unsafe ones disappear from the fleet or people choose not to buy them but it'll always be difficult because if you put a premium on the safety features that makes the car more desirable and hence more expensive," Professor Newstead said.
"There's still someone who will come along and buy the one that's cheaper. It's about making a smart decision about being safe and people should avail themselves of that as much as possible."
Features to look for in a used car:
·Electronic stability control (ESC)
·Anti-lock braking system (ABS)
·Lane departure warning