You’d imagine that a car with more air-bags would be safer than one with fewer. That’s not always the case. For starters, a car’s safety is determined by much more than just its air-bags.
You can also look at factors such as how the car’s metal structure absorbs impacts; the mass of the car (If, for instance a big car hits a small car, guess who comes off second best?); if the roof is strong enough to resist a roll-over and even the car’s dynamic abilities – how capable is it of avoiding a crash in the first place?
When you think about it, air-bags are a fairly inelegant solution and were pretty much developed so that, along with keeping and arming bears, North Americans could exercise their constitutional right to drive around without a seat-belt. That’s not to say, of course, that air-bags don’t save lives and reduce injuries, because they do. But you need to know what to look for.
On seven-seater cars, make sure that the side-curtain air-bags cover all three rows of seats. There’s quite a few models which don’t and unfortunately some people have learnt this the hard way.
And don’t be sucked into believing that just because a car has, say, a seventh air-bag for the driver’s knees, that it’s all about caring and sharing on the manufacturer’s part. In most cases, cars will only grow a knee air-bag if previous crash modelling has shown that the extra bag is needed to gain five stars in crash testing.
If you’re buying a second-hand car, check to see whether it’s been caught up in the multiple recent air-bag related recalls and if it has, whether it’s been fixed or not.