How to Find the Safest SUVs

Published March 29, 2017 by Sean Jackson

If you are like many prospective buyers, an SUV’s safety performance ranks high on your list of determining factors along with performance, interior space, and cost. Thankfully, there’s an easy way to conduct research to learn how safe an SUV is. One of the best resources to turn to is the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). The NHTSA conducts crash tests annually on each model to see how it performs in the worst conditions. Here is a closer examination of how the NHTSA does these tests.

Frontal Crash

One of the worst-case scenarios is a frontal collision. This can transpire when a driver from another lane veers into yours or a vehicle stops abruptly in front of you and there’s nothing you can do in time. In either scenario, it’s vital your SUV is able to protect you and your passengers as much as it can. The NHTSA measures to what degree each model can do this by:
  • Simulating two vehicles of similar weight colliding
  • Measuring the damage done to an SUV crashing into a barrier at 35 miles per hour
  • Placing an average adult sized male dummy in the driver’s seat and a small-sized adult female dummy in the passenger seat to see how the impact affects them (both dummies wear seat belts)
  • Studying injuries to the head, neck, legs, and chest of each dummy in the car

Side Crash

Side impact collisions are some of the most common ways accidents happen. Say you are making a right turn at an intersection and another driver runs the red light, makes a left turn and hits the side of your SUV. How your SUV performs in this critical moment is an important consideration to weigh. To simulate side-impact collisions, the NHTSA does the following:
  • Places an average sized male dummy in the driver’s seat and a small-sized adult female dummy in the passenger seat with both dummies wearing seat belts
  • Simulates an intersection crash--think of driving through an intersection when the light turns green only to find another driver has run the red light and hits your SUV
  • It also measure how the SUV responds when hit with a 3,015-pound moving barrier as the vehicle is idle
  • After the collisions, it measures the damage done to the SUV and the injuries the dummies might have incurred

Side Pole Crash

These can be some of the most dangerous accidents to occur. Say you are driving down the road on a winter day. As your SUV approaches a curve, there’s black ice but you don’t see it, the vehicle slides and you try to overcompensate by steering out of it. Instead of gaining control, your SUV slides and crashes into a telephone pole. The NHTSA conducts this test differently than other crash tests. Here’s how:
  • First, there is only one dummy in the vehicle. For this test, the NHTSA uses an average sized female dummy in the driver’s seat--wearing a seatbelt of course.
  • Next, they angle the SUV to 75 degrees, then simulate it losing control by having it pulled sideways at 20 miles per hour until it hits the pole on the driver’s side.
  • To see how effective the SUV performs, the NHTSA test the head, neck, chest, pelvis, lower spine and abdomen injuries suffered by the driver.
  • Another difference with this test is the NHTSA can compare all vehicles.

Rollover Test

Another scary scenario is you are driving along when a sharp curve appears. You try to navigate it but your SUV is moving too fast. The unfortunate result is your SUV leaves the road and rolls over. To test an SUV’s effectiveness in protecting its occupants, the NHTSA does the following:

Measure the Static Stability Factor

To see how susceptible an SUV is to rolling over, the NHTSA test vehicles in its lab by their Static Stability Factor. How this works is the administration determines how top-heavy an SUV is--a critical factor in determining how easy it would be for it to tip over. In addition, they test how vulnerable an SUV is to roll over during driving maneuvers such as making a sharp turn as you approach a curve. As you can see, the NHTSA tests many common scenarios. Upon completion of these tests, they assign each SUV ratings. First, they score SUVs on each area they are tested, then the NHTSA compiles an average score, ranging from the lowest available--one star--to the highest available--five stars. The goal is for you to find a vehicle that earns either a four or five-star overall safety rating.

How to Find the Safest SUV

The NHTSA makes it easy to find its safety ratings for each model. Simply, you visit its website then type in the year, make, and model of the SUV you are interested in buying. Upon completed, the website will show all trims available for that model and the safety scores of each. This is a simple way to see crash test data quickly. Along with this, the NHTSA recommends finding an SUV with recommended safety technology. This technology includes features such as:
  • Forward collision warning
  • Rearview video system
  • Automatic emergency braking
  • Lane departure warning

Other Factors to Consider

The NHTSA is an excellent resource to use when conducting research on your next SUV. Along with crash data and safety technologies, be sure to consider the following factors when finding the right vehicle for you:
  • See how many recalls a model has. You can use the NHTSA website to find recalls for any vehicle based on its VIN number. This is particularly helpful if you plan to buy a pre-owned vehicle. Meanwhile, if you plan to buy new, see if there are other models in the same generation and how the recall history has been for those SUVs.
  • Learn from other owners of the same model. Use car forums, reviews sites or word of mouth to learn how the SUV you’re interested in handles. This gives you invaluable insight from those who have the most experience with the vehicle.

Useful SUV Links

Recommended SUV News & Reviews

∗ Monthly payments are only an example shown for convenience. Estimated monthly payments based on 3.9% APR, 60 month financing, and 20% down payment. Taxes and other fees are not included in price or payment. Subject to approved buyer credit. Actual purchase terms may vary. Payment calculations may not reflect actual financing terms. Down payments subject to availability, approved buyer credit and lender requirements.