Car safety ratings explained

For most car buyers, safety is a primary concern. When you buy a car, you need to be confident that it will keep you safe if you’re involved in a crash. But, how do you know how safe your car is? In this post, we take a detailed look at NCAP (New Car Assessment Programme) safety ratings, showing you how they work and what they show you.

What is the NCAP safety rating?

NCAP introduced their overall safety rating in 2009. It bases its safety assessment on four areas of car safety:

  • Adult occupant
  • Child occupant
  • Pedestrian protection
  • Safety assist technologies

It shows a headline safety rating in stars. One star is the weakest rating, while five is the highest. This rating was introduced in order to add flexibility to the scheme, which first came into use in 1997. NCAP ratings only report safety. They’re not interested in top speeds, fuel efficiency or other similar factors. All they want to know is: how safe is this car if it’s involved in a collision?

How do NCAP calculate star ratings?

The five-star safety rating system gives you an easily readable headline indicator for your car, helping you make an informed decision when purchasing your next vehicle.

To calculate a star rating, Euro NCAP carry out a number of different tests on the vehicle to see how it responds to different stresses and impacts. In a controlled environment using dummies, these tests mimic real life accidents that could pose significant risk to a driver, their passengers or pedestrians.

Euro NCAP can then see how the cars respond to these tests and can estimate how safe the people within the car, as well as other road users would have been, if the accident had occurred on the road.

The tests carried out by NCAP include:

  • Frontal impact
  • Car-to-car-side impact
  • Pole side impact
  • Pedestrian protection
  • Child protection systems
  • Whiplash
  • Speed assistance systems and seatbelt reminders
  • Autonomous emergency braking
  • Electronic stability control

What do the stars mean?

The stars are a visual representation of how well the cars performed in the Euro NCAP tests. They’re also influenced by what type of safety equipment the vehicle manufacturer offers.

If a car you’re looking to purchase has a high number of stars, then it means that not only has it performed well in tests, but it has also got a high level of safety equipment on board, that’s readily available across the market. When you’re looking at the stars, keep in mind that they mean…

5 stars: An overall good performance in crash protection. The safety equipment on board is robust and contains crash avoidance technology.

4 stars: Good performance in crash tests, additional technology to help avoid crashes may also be present.

3 stars: Average to good protection for the occupant but does not have crash avoidance technology.

2 stars: A small amount of crash protection. Contains no crash avoidance technology.

1 star: Contains minimal crash protection.

It is, however, important to know that a one star or two-star car isn’t necessarily unsafe. It simply means that it’s less safe than its rivals that have higher scores. Some cars also have ‘dual ratings’. One of these ratings applies to a car fitted only with safety equipment which is standard on every variant in the model range. The second rating is based on a car with an additional ‘safety pack’, that may be offered as an optional extra to consumers.

Keep a lookout for the latest results

As manufacturers the world over continue to improve the safety of their cars thanks to the introduction of new technology, the rating system continues to adapt and evolve.

This means that tests are regularly updated, with new ratings added to the system and old ratings adjusted. When you’re looking at tests to decide what car to buy, ensuring that you’re looking at the correct year for the test is vital.

The latest test is always the most relevant and you need to be careful if you’re trying to compare across years, because the test does change.

You can find out how safe your car is here.

Image courtesy of iStock.


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