Safety tips for buying used cars

road toll green slip cover

If you want to buy a used car, here are some tips about which models are safest. An Australian study, led by Monash University, gives 1-5 star ratings for nearly 400 models of vehicle. There was a huge difference between the best and the worst. In fact, a driver in the least safe car is 10 times more likely to be seriously injured or killed than in the safest car.

Safer Picks

The study analyses 7 million crashes from 1987 to 2015 in Australia and New Zealand. It included only vehicles involved in at least 100 crashes with at least 20 driver injuries. Researchers judged the safest vehicles as Safer Picks because they protected everyone in the environment, not just the driver.

Safer Picks come with safety technologies as standard, for example, electronic stability control (ESC). By the end of 2016 for example, 57% of passenger cars, 76% of SUVs and only 34% of Utes had ESC.

Safer Picks (selections only*)

Type of vehicle Model
Small cars Audi A3
  BMW 1 Series
  Toyota Prius 3
 Light cars Honda City
 Medium cars Ford Mondeo
  Mazda 6
  Subaru Liberty/Legacy/Outback
 Large cars Mercedes Benz E-Class (not all)
  Volvo V70/XC70
People movers Honda Odyssey
Commercial – Utes Holden Colorado RC
Compact SUVs Hyundai ix35
  Volkswagen Tiguan
Medium SUVs Honda CR-V
  Mazda CX-7
  Mitsubishi/Peugeot Outlander 4007
Large SUVs BMW X5 E53/70
  Mercedes Benz ML/GL
  Volvo XC90


*Get the complete list of the safest brands including year of manufacture here.

Older cars crash more

Unfortunately, older cars crash more. According to Australian Bureau of Statistics:

  • 20% of vehicles were built before 2000 but in 33% of crashes
  • Over 30% of vehicles were built after 2011 but in only 13% of crashes.

The average age of a vehicle in Australia in 2016 was 10.1 years (same as 2015). So while they are becoming safer, many people are still driving older vehicles. For example, young people are more likely to drive cheaper, less reliable cars.

ANCAP demonstration

ANCAP (Australasian New Car Assessment Program) demonstrated the difference between and older and newer model of the same car.

It compared two models of Toyota Corolla 5-door hatchback, one built in 1998 and one in 2015. The latest model has six airbags, ABS, electronic brake force distribution and brake assist as standard. 1998 has none of these.

ANCAP ran a test at 64kmh where one vehicle starts to turn into the other (the most common kind of crash):

  • The 1998 model crumpled heavily with extreme risk of serious head, chest and leg injury to driver. It scored 0.40 out of 16 points: 0 stars
  • The 2015 model had minimal damage and scored 12.93 out of 16 points: 5 stars.

CTP insurance

Of course, insurers are well aware of the risks of older vehicles and include year of manufacture in their quotes. Premiums can vary for vehicles under 5 years old, 5-10 years old and over 10 years old (estimates only).

While you may not be able to afford a newer car purchase price, CTP insurance could work out cheaper for you in the long run.

Find out more about buying used cars.

Corrina Baird

Writer and expert

Corrina used to lend her car to her kids and discovered first hand what Ls, Ps and demerits mean for greenslips. After 20 years of writing and research in financial services, she’s an expert in the NSW CTP scheme. Read more about Corrina

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