How to be sure you're buying an IIHS Top Safety Pick+ car Page 2

January 19, 2017
IIHS Top Safety Pick+ screen

IIHS Top Safety Pick+ screen

The Top Safety Pick+ award is granted to a car that performs well in these tests:

  • Small overlap frontal: A vehicle drives at 40 mph into a special barrier, with 40 percent of the impact force absorbed by the driver's side of the vehicle.
  • Moderate overlap frontal: A more rigorous test designed to replicate a vehicle running into a utility pole or a tree.
  • Side impact: Designed to simulate a small SUV running into the test vehicle. 
  • Roof strength: Vehicles need to be able to support four times their weight to pass this test. 
  • Head restraints/seats: An evaluation of how well a seat holds a passenger in the event of any kind of wreck—including a rear impact, where whiplash is a concern.  
  • Front crash prevention technology: A test of automatic emergency braking systems, which will be almost universal in new vehicles beginning in 2022
  • Headlights: Effectiveness of high- and low-beam headlights, including both clarity and range.

A car can be a Top Safety Pick—note that there's no + after Pick—if it passes all but the headlight test. 

In short, the IIHS' evaluation is the most comprehensive. It doesn't mean that we ignore the NHTSA's testing—but the IIHS goes several steps further. If a car is a Top Safety Pick or a Top Safety Pick+, it's among the safest new cars you can buy today. 

Here's you might not end up with a Top Safety Pick+

Where it gets complicated is in those two last tests—front crash prevention technology and headlight effectiveness. Front crash prevention tech—that's automatic emergency braking systems that can stop a car if they detect an impending collision—will be nearly standard all new cars by 2022, but most vehicles now at least offer this important feature as an option. Last year, automakers agreed to include the technology in more than 90 percent of cars sold as new in 2022.

Increasingly, automakers are making automatic emergency braking standard on their higher-end models. Volvo and Toyota, in particular, make the tech standard equipment on almost everything they sell now.

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