Tale of the test
The experts agree that no matter how much technology you include in a vehicle, it can't keep you completely safe, because, hey, it's called an "accident" for a reason.
And in those accidents, the laws of physics dictate that big typically wins over small, all other things being equal.
But that doesn't mean that the safest thing to buy is the biggest honking thing on the road.
“Stability control is being compared with seatbelt in terms of the number of lives it can save.
” -- Joanne Helperin, Edmunds.com
"You've got to remember, even if you buy the biggest thing available, there will always be something bigger," Linkov says. "If you are in a sedan, it might be an SUV, if you are in an SUV, it might be a city bus, or even a semi."
With that in mind, buyers should turn to the crash-test scores for their best fighting chance. Those crash tests are important because they measure things like the correct frame rigidity, safety cage strength and where different components, like the steering column and brake pedals, go during a collision.
"These are things you can't necessarily see on the showroom floor," Linkov says.
And as a rule, these are the things that the more expensive models tend to consider in their designs, Helperin says.
Price of safety
But while many of the safest vehicles on the road come with large price tags, Rader says a keen shopper can now find safe vehicles on almost any budget.
"When we first started crash testing, it tended to be luxury makes that did better early on, but that has changed," Rader says. "Consumers can find very safe vehicles in all price ranges today."
But where cost does tend to correlate to safety is in the options.
"The luxury cars will be the ones that enjoy the best features first," Helperin says. "Then they trickle their way down to the rest of us."
And just as shopping merely by price doesn't necessarily guarantee safety, neither does shopping by reputation.
While many brands, such as Volkswagen, Saab and Volvo all enjoy a reputation for building solid cars, Linkov warns that you should still do your homework.
"One brand may do well with many of their cars, but then have a low-end entry-level one with few features available, and that may not be the safest car around," he says.
Another thing you shouldn't take for granted are convertibles.
"We saw with convertibles, a brand that may make a safe sedan may not hold up as well in a convertible model," Linkov says.