How to read WhichCar safety ratings

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WhichCar assigns every new car a safety rating of up to six shields, along with an explanatory label ranging from Basic to Standout.

These show how well you can expect a car to look after you and your family – by protecting you if you crash, but also by helping you avoid grievous incidents altogether.

Both the rating and the label are generated from a weighted scoring of the car’s safety-related equipment. They are not meant to replace the ratings of up to five stars assigned by the Australasian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP), which are based mainly on the results of laboratory crash tests.

Below are answers to some questions you might have about the WhichCar ratings.

Why don’t you just use the ANCAP safety ratings?

ANCAP has rated fewer than two thirds of the new cars Australians can buy. We wanted to offer a rating for every new car.

Do you crash-test cars that you rate?

No, we don’t. Our rating is based on the safety features that makers build into each car – from where they put airbags, to whether they warn that a child has not buckled a seatbelt.

If you don’t crash the cars, how do you know if they are safe?

Every maker must show that its cars pass basic tests for crash safety, before they can be sold here.

In addition, all major manufacturers now ensure that new car designs do well in more rigorous tests for occupant protection, including the ANCAP tests and those conducted by similar agencies overseas.

Those few makers for whom crash protection is a lower priority typically neglect important safety features, and therefore receive low scores from us.

Some cars that get a five-star rating from ANCAP receive only three or four shields from you. Why?

There are three main reasons.

First, our rating system places more emphasis on technologies that can help the driver avoid crashes and look after people outside the car. Reversing cameras score highly, for example, as does automatic emergency braking. (ANCAP also thinks these are important.)

Second, our rating system has been designed to bring out differences between cars, so that you can see which are better equipped. In contrast, ANCAP’s system encourages makers to meet a particular standard (its five-star standard).

Finally, a car retains its ANCAP rating for life, even though ANCAP standards change over time. Some long-lived models with four- or five-star ANCAP ratings would not keep those ratings if retested today.

So how many WhichCar shields is enough? ANCAP says I should not buy a car it rates at less than five stars.

Cars with three full shields (Very Good) are likely to have electronic stability control and six or more airbags. Cars with four shields (Excellent) are likely to also have a reversing camera, and cars with five full shields (Standout) are very likely to have a form of automatic emergency braking, along with other advanced safety aids.

If a car has received a safety rating from ANCAP, we supply that rating also when we review the model range, in the review section titled “What about safety?”.

Does a low WhichCar rating mean I should not buy that car?

Possibly. It means that before buying you should investigate further, and then decide whether that car has the safety features you need. Some very expensive, specialised cars receive moderate WhichCar scores, often because they do not use the latest safety technologies.

For every vehicle variant shown on WhichCar, safety related features are listed in red under the ‘Features’ tab.

WhichCar reviews of a model range also discuss the key safety features available.