Car Crash Test Ratings, Explained

Crash test ratings can help you determine whether your car is the safest option, with low ratings potentially raising your insurance premium.
Written by Elaine Sulpy
Reviewed by Carrie Adkins
If you're looking to
buy a car
, you probably want one that will keep you (and any passengers) safe. Crash ratings can help you find the safest makes and models.
Crash tests demonstrate the safety of a car in real-world situations, such as frontal impact and rollover accidents. In 2018, there were
33,654 fatal motor vehicle crashes
in the U.S, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT).
To help mitigate the effects of driver distraction, fatigue, and mistakes, automakers are focusing on increasing vehicle safety. There are several common safety features designed to protect a vehicle’s occupants, from seat belts to air bags to anti-lock brakes (ABS), but advancements have allowed manufacturers to implement preventive safety technology such as forward collision warning, lane departure warning and prevention, and auto-braking.
As the use of safety features increase and advances in design occur, tests are done to ensure that they are accomplishing their intended purposes. Read this guide by
to learn more about car crash tests, car crash ratings, what they affect, and more.
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Understanding the crash testing system

While many automakers typically do their own crash testing, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) and National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) are the two industry-trusted providers of scores and ratings.
The IIHS is a nonprofit group funded by insurance companies. The group conducts tests to evaluate a vehicle’s crashworthiness, crash avoidance, and crash mitigation utilizing a rating system of good, acceptable, marginal, or poor.
The institute conducts five tests to determine a car’s crashworthiness:
  • Moderate overlap front
  • Small overlap front
  • Side
  • Roof strength
  • Head restraints
In addition, to single out vehicles that score well in the tests, the IIHS has two awards presented to vehicles with exceptional ratings:
  • Top Safety Pick: To earn this award, vehicles must earn good ratings in the five crashworthiness tests and an advanced or superior rating in the front crash prevention test.
  • Top Safety Pick+: For the top award IIHS presents, vehicles must earn good ratings in the five crashworthiness tests, an advanced or superior rating in the front crash prevention test, and an acceptable or good headlight rating.
National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA)
is a government organization that utilizes a star system from one to five stars in three tests:
  • A frontal test
  • A side-impact assessment
  • A rollover test
Each test is scored with a five-star ranking system, with all tests averaged out for an overall star rating on the car’s crashworthiness. NHTSA is the only organization that rates rollover resistance in its testing, in addition to frontal and side crashworthiness. In addition, NHTSA also rates car seats and tires.

Understanding IIHS and NHTSA crash test ratings

The IIHS breaks down crashworthiness scores and headlight test results as:
  • Good
  • Acceptable
  • Marginal
  • Poor
In addition, the institute breaks down crash avoidance and mitigation for vehicle’s with available front crash prevention systems as:
  • Basic
  • Advanced
  • Superior
NHTSA categorizes vehicles by class and curb weight, or the weight of a vehicle with standard equipment as well as fuel, oil, coolant, and air conditioning at max capacity. It utilizes a five-star safety rating system, as follows:
  • Five stars (highest rating)
  • Four stars
  • Three stars
  • Two stars
  • One star (lowest rating)

How to find car crash test scores

Both the IIHS and NHTSA provide online tools to easily check your vehicle’s crash test score:

How crash test scores affect insurance

Aside from the overall safety benefit of a car that scores well on crash test ratings, these scores can also impact your insurance premiums. As noted above, the IIHS is funded by insurance companies, with a goal to help them evaluate risk on insuring specific vehicles.
In short, the more safety features a vehicle has and the better it scores in crash tests, the lower the insurance premiums will be. Insurance companies can rest assured the vehicle is more likely to be safer on the road, so they're willing to offer a lower rate.
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Understanding what crash test ratings are, how to find a car’s crash test score, and why they matter to you and your insurance provider can help you make informed decisions when purchasing a new car. Stay safe and
save on your insurance premiums
by knowing all about car crash test ratings.
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