When you're buying a car, safety should always be a priority. But we often take it for granted, expecting that any car on the market is simply safe enough. And while that's true - all cars sold in the U.S. must adhere to federal government standards - some cars are still safer than others. Some perform better in crash tests, while others have more safety equipment.
When family comes into the picture, safety takes on an even more urgent meaning. It's not just your life at stake anymore. Now, you have to find a vehicle that's safe enough to carry your most precious cargo. At the very least, features you'll want in a safe family vehicle are electronic stability control or traction control systems, anti-lock brakes and airbags that protect the head and chest. Rear-seat side crash test scores are especially important since the safest place for children and child safety seats is in the rear seat.
To make your search a little easier, we've analyzed safety data to bring you a list of family-friendly cars that don't do as well in crash tests as their competitors.
U.S. News Safety Score: 6.1 (out of 10)
The TrailBlazer's strong point is its comfortable, roomy and relatively well-equipped cabin. But even with standard electronic stability control, its frontal crash test scores pale in comparison to the top ratings of other midsize SUVs. The federal government gives it three out of five stars for driver safety and four for passenger safety, while the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) gives it a score of Acceptable (when many competitors, including the GMC Acadia, receive top scores of Good).
Though the TrailBlazer redeems itself somewhat with top five-star scores in government side crash tests, the 2WD model's rollover score is worrisome - it receives only three stars, meaning its chance of rollover is 20 percent. The 4WD model receives four stars, which is on par with most SUVs. The TrailBlazer comes with head-protecting side curtain airbags for both rows. However, it doesn't offer chest-protecting airbags, which are provided standard by top rivals such as the Chevrolet Traverse and Buick Enclave.
U.S. News Safety Score: 6.2
The Saab 9-7X is a handsome, all-wheel-drive SUV with generous interior space. It even comes standard with an electronic stability control system. However, the federal government gives the 2009 model low frontal crash tests scores in comparison to most competitors - only three stars for driver safety and four for passenger safety (incidentally, the 9-7X gets top five-star scores in side crashes). IIHS gives it scores of Acceptable in frontal offset tests and Marginal in side impact tests - and this is in a class in which most SUV, including the Acura MDX, receive top scores. Even worse is that the 9-7X receives a score of Poor (the lowest possible) in rear crash tests. The SUV's equipment list is long, but it provides side curtain airbags for head protection only (not chest protection).
U.S. News Safety Score: 6.3
The Aveo's affordable sticker price and good space for four passengers make it a logical choice for small families. However, its list of standard and even optional safety equipment is short, compared to competitors. It comes with standard combination airbags (which protect the head and chest) for the front seats only. That may be why the Aveo does well in frontal crash tests, but suffers in side crash tests - the federal government gives it just three out of five stars for rear passenger protection, while IIHS gives it a score of Marginal (the second lowest possible). Anti-lock brakes are just optional on the higher trims, and electronic stability control and traction control aren't even available. On the plus side, good visibility is one of the Aveo's strengths, and OnStar is standard.
Chrysler PT Cruiser
U.S. News Safety Score: 6.6
With its spacious interior, the PT Cruiser offers plenty of cargo and passenger room for the money. It's being discontinued after 2009, so if you want one, now is the time to act - but make sure to consider the retro wagon's safety scores first. While it earns the highest possible rating in frontal crash tests from IIHS, it earns a rating of Poor, (the lowest possible) in both side-impact and rear crash tests. The PT Cruiser comes with advanced front multistage airbags and supplemental side airbags for the front row. However, electronic stability control is not available, while traction control and anti-lock brakes are extra-cost options on all but the most expensive trim. That means the base model lacks accident avoidance equipment that many other cars offer.
LATCH It Up
A final component that is vitally important to child safety is the LATCH (Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children) system. The federal government requires new vehicles manufactured since Sept. 1, 2002 to feature the system, which makes it easier to secure a child seat properly. While most cars only feature the system in the rear outboard seats, some (like the Chevrolet Equinox) feature it in the middle rear seat as well. The best way to know which seating positions are covered is to check with a car dealer or manufacturer.