When it comes to buying a used car, safety ranks well down the list for most buyers.  It’s not that used car buyers don’t care about being safe, but more that other issues take priority – usually price and appearance.

However, a new campaign to change that has been launched in the UK by Co-op Insurance, in conjunction with safety experts Thatcham Research and road safety charity Brake. Together, they have compiled a list of the Co-op’s Safest Used Family Cars of 2016.

Buying a used car does not have to mean compromising on safety equipment, with many thousands of vehicles on sale which feature extremely high levels of safety for drivers and passengers.  So when it comes to safety, second-hand does not have to mean second-best. And given that three times as many used cars are sold each year as new cars, this is an important issue.

Used car safety not on buyers’ agendas

Research conducted by Co-op Insurance has found that only four per cent of new and used car buyers placed safety at the top of their buying criteria.  And although four in five buyers described car safety as “very important” when buying a car, clearly it wasn’t important enough to rank higher than tenth on their list of priorities, behind price, value for money, brand name, mileage, colour, appearance, performance, fuel economy and size.

Car buyers confused by safety jargon

The same research showed that car buyers do not understand a lot of the jargon and acronyms used throughout the car industry to describe safety features.  For example, 77% of buyers did not understand what AEB meant (autonomous emergency braking), despite safety experts like Thatcham regularly reporting that it is one of the most important safety features for cars since the introduction of seat belts in the 1950s.

euroncap_autonomous emergency braking
Autonomous emergency braking plays in important role in reducing the number of car accidents.

60% of buyers were also confused by the term ISOFIX, which describes an industry standard for mounting child seats in cars, despite the term having been around for years and many thousands of car seats being purchased in that time.

The car industry can be its own worst enemy in conveying the merits of its technologies, with pretty much every manufacturer failing dismally to provide plain-English explanations of safety features and how they work.  Even worse, they can’t even agree on which baffling terminology they should use, so we see different manufacturers using different acronyms or names for the same features.

Used cars can be as safe as new cars

Two thirds of motorists surveyed assumed that a new car is automatically safer than a used car, but that is not necessarily the case.  According to the research (which defined a used car as at least one year old), there are many used cars available which feature a EuroNCAP five-star safety rating and which would be safer in a collision than a new car without such strong safety credentials.

Co-op Insurance and Thatcham have created a formula to rank used cars on their safety features, and have put together a list of the safest affordable (less than £15,000) used family cars. It is believed to be the first time such a ranking has been attempted, and the results show that there are plenty of options available for used car buyers who want to ensure they are getting the safest car possible for their money.

The results were announced, along with a presentation of the top three cars, at a media event in London this week.

UK’s Top 10 Safest Used Family Cars

Make and Model Year
1 Volvo V40* 2012
2 Volkswagen Golf 2012
3 Nissan Qashqai 2014
4 Peugeot 308 2013
5 Vauxhall Astra 2015
6 Mazda 3 2013
7 Mercedes-Benz A Class 2012
8 Honda Civic 2012
9 Mazda CX-5 2012
10 Fiat 500L 2014

* with optional safety pack

Volvo V40 SE Lux with Driver Support Pack for added safety
The Volvo V40 ranks top for used car safety – as long as it is fitted with the Driver Support Pack (the little black box visible inside the grille)

The Volvo V40 topped the chart for 2016, ahead of the Volkswagen Golf and Nissan Qashqai – with the proviso that the Volvo is specified with the optional Driver Support Pack, which costs an additional £2,000 on a new V40 and is therefore not fitted to all used models.  It can’t be fitted after production, so if you are interested in the Volvo then it’s definitely worth hunting down one that has the extra safety pack fitted.  It’s easy to spot, as the car will have a big black box in the grille next to the Volvo badge (the car in the pic above has it, if that helps).

The criteria for inclusion in the list were that all cars needed to have a five-star EuroNCAP rating, have CO2 emissions of no more than 120g/km and be readily available on the used car market for no more than £15,000. The cars were then further evaluated for safety performance above and beyond these standards, such as the availability of AEB (autonomous emergency braking) and the crash test results for both vehicle occupants and pedestrians.

To find out more, watch the video below as motoring presenter Quentin Willson joins experts from Thatcham and Brake to discuss the importance of raising awareness of safety for used car buyers.

This new initiative from Co-op Insurance and its partners is most welcome.  Hopefully it will get the recognition it deserves, and more  car buyers will start to put safety higher at the top of their list of priorities when buying a used vehicle.

What are your thoughts? Let us know below.