Australia’s used car safety ratings 2021 revealed

Hyundai Santa Fe

Bruce Newton

Posted September 28, 2021


Data reveals the driver of a one-star UCSR-rating vehicle is over eight times more likely to be killed or seriously injured than a driver in a five-star vehicle.

It is estimated three million used cars are sold each year in Australia, or about three times the number of new cars. The rising numbers of SUVs on Australian roads has translated to good news for safer motoring, according to the 2021 edition of the Used Car Safety Ratings (UCSR).

According to the study prepared by Monash University’s Accident Research Centre (MUARC) and sponsored by RACV, no fewer than 18 of the 29 vehicles judged to be ‘safer picks’ for both drivers and other road-users were medium and large SUVs.

In total, 378 different cars, utes, vans and SUV models manufactured between 1982 and 2019 were rated by the UCSR, covering the vast majority of mainstream second-hand vehicles on Victorian roads.

Download your 2021 edition of the Used Car Safety Ratings here.

The BMW1 Series Model has rated highly.

The BMW 1 Series 2011-19 Models have been awarded as a Safer Pick in the Small Car category.


What are the 2021 Used Car Safety Ratings?

When people buy a new car, they can refer to the independent ratings formulated by ANCAP (Australasian New Car Assessment Program) to find out how safe their prospective purchase is. The UCSR is designed to do exactly the same thing for used car buyers, but goes about it in a very different way.

ANCAP bases its ratings on laboratory crash testing, assessing driver safety aids such as autonomous emergency braking on a test track, and the forensic examination of vehicle engineering data supplied by the manufacturer.

UCSR bases its results on real-world data sourced from 8.8 million crashes reported by Australian and New Zealand police between 1987 and 2019 that resulted in more than 2.2 million injuries.

The vehicles involved in these crashes are then given a Driver Protection Rating from one star (very poor) to five stars (excellent). The best-of-the-best earn the ‘Safer Pick’ accolade.  

How are the Used Car Safety Ratings calculated?

To be included in the publicly published results, a vehicle must have been involved in at least 500 real-world crashes. The time it takes to accumulate so much real-world data means vehicles are generally five-years old before they are rated.

The ratings are based on four aspects of vehicle safety performance:

  • Crashworthiness measures how a vehicle protects its driver in a crash and is relevant to injury outcomes in about 90 per cent of all crashes. The published star ratings are based on these criteria.
  • Aggressivity measures how well the vehicle protects other road users with which it collides, such as pedestrians, cyclists, motorcyclists and other vehicle users.
  • Total secondary safety measures combined crashworthiness and aggressivity performance.
  • Primary safety measures the relative risk of a vehicle being involved in a crash.

Demographic factors such as who was driving at the time of the crash and the crash circumstances are also considered.

It is important to remember to not rely on an old UCSR when shopping for a used car. The results evolve year-by-year as more data and cars are added. A car that was five stars in 2020, for example, may not be any more.

The 2015 Isuzu MU-X was also listed as a safe pick.

The Isuzu MU-X Models from 2013-19 were also listed as a Safer Pick in the Large SUV category.


Winners and losers

The latest data proves the newer a vehicle is, the safer it often is. The average risk of death or serious injury to the driver involved a crash in a 2019 vehicle is more than 25 per cent less than that in a 2010 car, and 61 per cent less than one released in 1990.

A 'Safer Pick' vehicle not only provides five-star driver protection, it also protects other road users and comes with proven safety technology, such as electronic stability control and reversing assistants such as sensors and a camera.

“Newer designs developed with the assistance of high-tech computer modelling and the addition of many safety features, including airbags for frontal and side impact crashes, have improved safety on average,” noted Associate Professor Stuart Newstead of MUARC in the 2021 UCSR report.

“In addition, newer vehicles need to comply with a wider range of standards.”

In recognition of this trend, the Victorian Government have begun the 'unsafe2safe program' – an initiative that would allow Victorians between 18 and 25 years of age to receive a $5,000 subsidy to purchase a newer, safer vehicle from a participating dealer. Their existing car (which is 16 years or older) will be scrapped so the safety risk won’t be transferred to another person.

This program is currently seeking participants from Bendigo and Ballarat to provide feedback and test the program. For more information and to register your interest, visit the unsafe2safe website here.

Star performers

There are 52 five-star performers in the 2021 UCSR, of which 29 are also designated Safer Picks. We’ve plucked out five Safer Picks that also stand out as cars that are reliable, good value and good to drive:

  • BMW 1 Series 2011-2019 (Small Car): Prestige European cars can be expensive to maintain and a bit iffy when it comes to long-term reliability, but the compact 1 Series is a better bet than most.
  • Toyota Prius 2009-16 (Small Car): The sole electrified vehicle on the Safer Pick list is a relatively simple hybrid, rather than a plug-in.  It still saves you fuel and comes with Toyota Japan build quality.
  • Hyundai Santa Fe 2012-2018 (Medium SUV):  A breakthrough vehicle for the Korean brand, because it was not only well-equipped and affordable, but also very well-engineered.
  • Subaru Outback 2009-2014 (Medium SUV): Built to a high standard, relatively simple and tuned to suit Australian conditions.
  • Isuzu MU-X 2013-19 (Large SUV): Simple to the point of being crude, but still effective. A family 4x4 that can go anywhere and tow a big boat or caravan as well.
BMW 1 Series 2011-2019. Pictured: 2016 model.
Hyundai Santa Fe 2012-2018. Pictured: 2012 model.
Isuzu MU-X 2013-19. Pictured: 2018 model.
Subaru Outback 60. Pictured: 2010 model.

Many of the Safer Pick and five-star rated vehicles are available under $15,000 and some for under $10,000 on the used car market, which is great news for young drivers purchasing a first vehicle.

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