Used Car Safety Ratings 2019-20 reveals safest used cars

Red car driving along country tree-lined road.

Sue Hewitt

Posted September 04, 2019

Safest used cars to buy according to the latest Used Car Safety Ratings 2019-20 report.

Can you really buy a decent second-hand car that won’t endanger the driver, passenger or other innocent road users for less than $3000? The answer is yes, according to the just-released Used Car Safety Ratings buyer’s guide. 

Based on research by Monash University Accident Research Centre (MUARC) the 2019 guide identified 22 second-hand models worthy of a five star-plus safety rating, including the 2004-2011 Peugeot 407. A quick Google search revealed a 2005 Peugeot 407 for sale for as little as $2600. 

The MUARC research used real-life accident data, rather than crash-test dummy laboratory assessments, to assess the safety of 389 second-hand vehicles. It awarded 69 models a five-star rating for driver protection and crashworthiness. Of those, 22 were identified as a ‘safer pick’ because they also reduced the risk of injury for other road users, including pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists.  

The researchers found there were several vehicles among the ‘safer pick’ group on the market for less than $15,000 or even under $10,000.  

RACV’s manager of vehicle engineering Michael Case says motorists buying a second-hand car need not compromise their safety. “The true price of their purchase might only be revealed after a collision and then it is too late,” he says. 

Michael says parents often buy used vehicles as a first car for their children or families purchase them as a second vehicle. “That’s why it is imperative they be as safe as possible,” he says. 

"Motorists should strive to buy the safest car they can afford, no matter what their budget, and these safety ratings make that task much easier.” 

Unsurprisingly, the research found that newer vehicles were the safest choices. All those awarded five stars were manufactured after 1998, and most of the ‘safer pick’ models were made from 2006 onwards, reflecting advances in safety equipment, design and newer safety regulations. Newer models contained safety technology such as electronic stability control and multiple airbags. 

The buyer’s guide groups vehicles into 10 categories - light, small, medium and large cars; compact, medium and large SUVs; commercial vans and utes; and people movers. 

Vehicles were rated out of five based on an analysis of 8.3 million actual crashes in Australia and New Zealand between 1987 and 2017, involving vehicles made between 1982 and 2017. 

SUVs were heavily represented among the five-star ratings and of the 22 ‘safer picks’, seven were large SUVs, including Nissan Patrols made between 2012 and 2017 and Mitsubishi Pajero models from 2007 to 2017. Six of the ‘safer picks’ were medium SUVs including the Subaru Forester (2012 to 2017 models) and the Honda CR-V (2012 to 2017), and there was one small SUV, the Jeep Compass (2007 to 2017 models) rated among the safest 22. 

But while six of the 15 small SUVs studied got a five-star safety rating, this category also included some of the poorest performers with five rated one star and three two stars. 

Overall, 66 models were rated as very poor with one star, and 56 were rated poor (two stars). Light and small cars, and older models, were the worst performers. 

Researchers say that cars in the one-star group are, on average, twice as likely to cause death or serious injury to a driver compared to five-star-rated vehicles. 

RACV sponsors the Used Car Safety Ratings.