You've seen the TV spots. You've read the ads. You've visited the automaker's website. That new car you want is very safe, they proclaim. It has received top marks from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety—the Top Safety Pick+ award.
But not every car on the dealer's lot is necessarily a Top Safety Pick+ recipient, even if it looks just like one that qualified for the award. You'll have to read the fine print if it's a Top Safety Pick+ you're after, especially since the insurance industry-funded IIHS recently revamped its qualification requirements.
What is Top Safety Pick+ and why does it matter?
There are two groups that crash test cars—the NHTSA, an arm of the federal government, and the IIHS that was set up as a service to insurers. The IIHS' testing is more comprehensive: cars are evaluated from a barrage of instrumented tests; measurements are taken on the effectiveness of their (often optional) automatic emergency braking systems; and, for 2017, their headlights are measured for effectiveness.
By contrast, the NHTSA's tests haven't been updated in a while, and they focus solely on how well a car holds up to impacts—not how it can potentially help its driver avoid them.