While it's easy to fixate on new technology or fancy design when shopping for a new car, safety remains a core element buyers consider. New-car window stickers do their best to lay out the information, but thankfully, there's a simple way to check and see your car's safety rating.
Here's how to find out your car's safety rating, and what happens if the federal government hasn't tested a particular car.
1. Have your year, make and model information
Perhaps you know it by heart, or you need to find this information. The owner's manual included with your car will give you all the relevant information needed to supply the proper year, make and model. Don't have the owner's manual? A window sticker, dealership paperwork or an insurance card can also supply this information.
2. Check the NHTSA database
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is the agency responsible for evaluating new cars and rating them on a 5-star scale. Head to nhtsa.gov/ratings and the website will prompt you to enter your year, make and model. From there, the same page will populate the results, which will show a vehicle's star rating.
3. Select your vehicle
After seeing the vehicle in the NHTSA database, click on the link that shows up under "Vehicles." This will bring up a whole page dedicated to the particular model with more in-depth information about how it performed in frontal-crash, side-crash and rollover tests. The page also explains what occurs during the test and what the star ratings mean to give you a better idea of what the car endured to receive its rating. You'll also see any relevant recalls for the car and owner complaints.
4. Check the IIHS database
Not only does the federal government cover safety ratings, but the insurance industry-funded Insurance Institute for Highway Safety conducts independents tests, too. Occasionally, NHTSA doesn't test a particular model on the market, which could make the IIHS your only option.
Go to iihs.org where you'll once again need your year, make and model information. Select your vehicle and you'll be taken to an overview page a lot like NHTSA.
However, the IIHS conducts more crash tests and tests other areas of a vehicle, such as active safety equipment and headlights. All of these factors will determine if the IIHS awards a Top Safety Pick, or an even better Top Safety Pick Plus award.