Car Crash Test Results: What You Need to Know

Volvo XC90
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What Actually Goes On in a Car Crash Test?

If you’ve browsed through our car reviews, you’ve probably noticed the Safety page, which contains results from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). If you saw the high-level ratings, for example, “IIHS Top Safety Pick+” and “NHTSA 5-Star Overall,” you probably didn’t think too much about it or fret about the results from specific tests, but it’s interesting to see how those tests are administered and why we benefit from having tests done by two different groups.

IIHS and NHTSA test results and ratings are usually displayed side-by-side in a car’s review, while a car’s marketing tends to favor whichever group of tests had better results and a higher rating. Furthermore, most consumers don’t seem to realize (or care) that there’s a difference between the two groups. The key difference is that IIHS is a nonprofit that’s paid for by insurance companies, and NHTSA is run by the government, but both provide a valuable service to the auto industry and to American consumers. The groups’ tests are similar but not identical, and the organizations acknowledge that their goals and methods complement each other. The takeaway for the consumer is that both sets of crash test results are worth considering when buying a new car.