Tesla Model S
Tesla Model S (Tesla Motors)

Buying a Tesla Model S may seem like a leap of faith. After all, Tesla is a new automaker selling a new model that runs on new technology. However, the Model S’s five-star crash test rating, released by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) last week, shows that, when it comes to safety, Tesla can compete with the major manufacturers.

The five-star rating is NHTSA’s highest. Tesla earned a five-star overall rating, as well as five-star ratings for frontal impact, side impact and rollover.

Ford’s less-expensive Focus EV also earned five stars across the board, so the Tesla is not the only electric vehicle with excellent crash test scores. Other competitors, like the Nissan Leaf and the Mitsubishi iearned four stars. They are smaller cars than the Tesla, but so is the Focus EV.

Perhaps the best way to gauge Tesla’s success is to compare it to other startup automakers. Automotive News (subscription required) points out that other new EV companies, such as Coda Automotive, have struggled in the expensive and complex world of crash safety engineering. Coda’s EV received only two stars from NHTSA in its frontal crash test. Coda has since filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

CNN Money says that “the [Tesla Model S’s] ratings are a particularly impressive accomplishment for a new automaker that has not had years of vehicle designs and safety measures to fall back on.”

According to Tesla, the Model S’s high-strength steel and aluminum frame contribute to its all-around crash performance. The Model S’s motors are in the back, not the front, which gives the Tesla a unique crumple zone that improves front-impact performance. The battery design also improves crash performance. The battery lies along the bottom of the Model S, increasing the rigidity of the passenger cabin, and it is reinforced and liquid-cooled to reduce the risk of rupture or overheating in a crash. If a crash occurs, the battery automatically cuts off the power supply.

Although Tesla is being lauded for performing well in its first crash test, Cars.com points out that Tesla has not had a perfect track record for safety. Earlier this summer, Tesla recalled 1,228 Tesla Model S vehicles for improperly welded seat brackets, although they did not receive any reports of accidents or injuries.

Videos of the crash tests are available for download on NHTSA’s site, but for those who don’t wish to download them, Motor Trend has embedded the videos on its site.

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