How to Shop for a Safe Used Car

Our tips will help you make a smart choice

If you’re considering purchasing a vehicle, you may find your choices unusually limited in the current market. A global computer chip shortage has significantly reduced new car and truck inventories, prompting many people to take a closer look at purchasing a used vehicle.

Interestingly, from a safety perspective, buying a used automobile may have some advantages. For instance, a used model has a track record that can be reviewed.

Let’s take a closer look at what you should keep in mind about safety when shopping for a used car.

Review Safety Ratings

You’ve almost certainly seen crash test ratings on the window sticker when shopping for a new vehicle. For a used car, you’ll find those ratings online.

The two primary sources for safety ratings are the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). And it’s wise to review both as part of your research.

The NHTSA lists the various crash test ratings (frontal, side, rollover) for a vehicle as well as the safety equipment that comes standard or optional. The longer the vehicle has been on the road, the greater the opportunity for potential problems to surface. This site lists any recall information, complaints from drivers, investigations and communications sent out from the manufacturer.

The IIHS offers a bit more thorough initial review, conducting six different crash tests and rating vehicles as good, acceptable, marginal or poor. They also assess how well the headlights serve the driver from a safety perspective, how user-friendly the child-seat anchors (LATCH) are, and how well the safety features work.

Identify Safety Features

There’s been a flurry of new technological features added to cars in recent years. Which ones may be the most valuable from a safety perspective?

Backup Cameras

Backup cameras have proven to be quite valuable in preventing accidents. Required on vehicles made since May 1, 2018, and common on many cars before then, it's more common to find used cars with this feature.

Blind Spot Detection

Blind spot detection is increasingly standard in modern cars, especially in late model vehicles sporting higher trim levels. According to IIHS, lane change crashes are reduced by 14% with blind spot detection. In crashes involving severe injury, that number improves to an even more favorable 23%.

Driver Assistance Technology

As you may have heard in news reports, self-driving vehicles may be a reality in the not-so-distant future. In the meantime, many of the features that will ultimately support it are already available. Automatic braking, forward collision warning, lane departure warning, adaptive headlights and adaptive cruise control are common features in newer model vehicles.

Consider Color

Does the color of the car you drive make it more or less likely to be in an accident? Some studies indicate it can be a factor in a collision. For instance, research reveals that darker cars are somewhat more likely to be in an accident than vehicles with lighter-shaded colors, particularly white ones. That said, the difference in risk level tends to diminish somewhat after nightfall, when headlights are the primary means of visibility.

Access Crash History

Finally, the true condition of a car may not always be obvious to the casual observer. If a car has frame damage from a prior accident, for example, there is a greater potential for future safety concerns. Most recent model cars have unibody construction. This tends to make them safer for occupants in a crash. Yet it may also make them more susceptible to structural damage that can be difficult to fix.

It’s worth noting that vehicles repaired after having been totaled may be issued a salvage title. In Texas, it’s possible for a salvaged vehicle to be rebuilt and pass an inspection deeming it road worthy again. Yet purchasing such an automobile is, for many people, a risk generally best avoided. Fortunately, there are multiple services that allow you to determine a vehicle’s full damage history, provided you have access to the car’s vehicle identification number (VIN).

Discover the difference RBFCU Insurance Agency makes when it comes to shopping for automobile insurance. Call us at 1-888-564-2999 or email us at for a consultation today.

Information in this article is general in nature and for your consideration, not as financial advice. Please contact your own financial professionals regarding your specific needs before taking any action based upon this information.

RBFCU Insurance Agency LLC is a wholly-owned subsidiary of RBFCU Services LLC. RBFCU Services LLC is affiliated with Randolph-Brooks Federal Credit Union (RBFCU). Insurance products are not deposits; are not obligations of the credit union; not NCUA insured; and not guaranteed by RBFCU Insurance Agency LLC, RBFCU Services LLC or RBFCU.