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13 safest cars of 2007

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Up until this year, the IIHS didn't test convertibles. Fortunately, though, Rader says his agency was pleased with most models they tested.

"We really were surprised so many convertibles performed so well in these tests," he says.

The key to whether a convertible held up as well as a comparable sedan was how the manufacturer compensated for the lost structural integrity the roof offered.

"The roof is a key component to the structure of these vehicles. When you take it off, you have to compensate in other parts to maintain the rigidity, and that is challenging," he says. "But we found that some manufacturers were doing a very good job."

And, again, there is no way to tell if the engineers did a good job just by looking at it, only by checking the crash-test data.

How to shop
If all these details seem overwhelming, the experts say the best thing to do is to start by looking for a vehicle that fits your lifestyle. If you know you need to haul construction material to a work site, don't look at anything other than pickups. If you have seven children, then a sedan is out of the question. If you need great fuel efficiency, then an SUV probably isn't going to be your best bet.

Then, once you choose the type that fits your lifestyle, look for vehicles that score well on both the IIHS and the NHTSA crash testing in that class.

Both sets of tests look for different strengths and weaknesses. "Ideally they should do well in both sets of tests," Rader says.

But beware. Just because a sedan performed best in its class, that doesn't necessarily mean it would be safer than an SUV that tested in the middle of its class. That's because the crash tests generally only show how a vehicle would hold up in a crash if it collided with a similar vehicle. But on the other hand, that supersized SUV may be more inclined to roll over. Again, the choice between different types of vehicles should be about what fits your lifestyle the best.

Finally, look carefully at all the optional safety equipment.

"But you know, if you are looking for a vehicle that is going to protect you in a wide range of scenarios, the safest are midsize and larger sedans and minivans," Rader says. "Statistics show us they have the lowest death rate of anything else on the road."

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