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Discussion Starter #1
I see many people cross-shopping vehicles of different classes stating "Well, they are both Five Star crash test safety rated, I don't know which to choose." While this is true, both vehicles the crash test safety ratings mean different things based on the vehicle class.

While the vehicle rating differences may not be so drastic between an Honda CRV (based on the Civic compact sedan) and a Subaru Outback (based on the Legacy mid-size sedan) for example, the safety differences may still be enough to make you rethink your choice.

The following article summarizes the issues nicely:
Model-to-model comparisons of frontal crash ratings are valid only within a vehicle class or between models of comparable weight (as long as they're within 250 pounds of each other). The test reflects how the vehicle would fare in a collision with another of the same model, not versus a larger or smaller vehicle (or a lower- or higher-riding vehicle). A heavier vehicle protects its occupants better than a lighter one if all other factors are equal, but they almost never are. So a large vehicle with a Poor rating is not necessarily safer than a small vehicle with a Good rating. Unfortunately, researchers have not yet devised a reliable method for reporting the effect of size differences on a vehicle's score.

from: Interpreting Crash Tests and Safety Rating - New Sports Cars - Cars.com

One extreme example of cross-shopping vehicle classes (I do not know who would be cross-shopping these two vehicles) where the driver buying the higher crash test safety-rated vehicle based on the crash test safety ratings alone might not end up purchasing the vehicle that is statistically safer overall is in the example of cross-shopping a Smart Fortwo and a Hummer H3.
Average Rating: IIHS-HLDI: Hummer H3
Good Rating: IIHS-HLDI: Smart Fortwo

A majority of obstacles on the road (other cars) are smaller than an H3 and a majority of obstacles on the road are larger than a Fortwo. I do not have the exact statistics to back up this claim, but I would think you are more likely to run into another car than you are to run into a brick wall (or another car of the exact same class) making the safety higher in the H3 based on probability of colliding with a smaller vehicle rather than a larger vehicle as with the Fortwo.

Since the frontal impact tests at most rating agencies are designed to simulate a front-end collision with a car of equal size, the fact that the Hummer H3 received lower marks in this category does not mean it is less safe than the Smart Fortwo. Which driver do you think would sustain more damage in a head-on collision between these two vehicles? I will just say I would much rather be in the Hummer.

Another good test for safety of two vehicles of comparable cost is to call an insurance agency (that you might plan to use) and to request a quote on how much it would cost to insure each vehicle. Other factors can play in, but safety plays a huge role in determining the cost to insure a vehicle. A higher price often means that the vehicle is viewed as less-safe in the grand insurance formula for your driver-type (age/number of miles travelled) and locality. In any case, it is not a bad idea to get the insurance quotes anyways since that will factor into the overall cost of ownership. Perhaps the cheaper car is not as cheap as you thought it was when the insurance rates are relatively higher for the next 10 years than a safer vehicle with a more expensive base price.

Please keep these thoughts in mind when cross-shopping vehicles. Certainly use the ratings, but do not forget that they are only a measure of comparative safety between like-vehicles.
 

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2013 Legacy Lim CVT Car: 2011 OB Prem 6MT Car: 2006 Miata GT 6MT mc: 2003 Honda GL1800A * Reunite Gondwanaland *
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While the vehicle rating differences may not be so drastic between an
Honda CRV (based on the Civic compact sedan) and a Subaru Outback
(based on the Legacy mid-size sedan) for example, the safety
differences may still be enough to make you rethink your choice.
Model-to-model comparisons of frontal crash ratings are valid
only within a vehicle class or between models of comparable
weight (as long as they're within 250 pounds of each other).
Curb weights:

2013 Honda CR-V AWD .... 3426 to 3545 lbs, depending on trim level
2013 Subaru OB 2.5i ....... 3423 to 3528 lbs, depending on trim level


 

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2010 2.5i Outback, 2015 2.5i Legacy w/Eyesight
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Discussion Starter #3
Curb weights:

2013 Honda CR-V AWD .... 3426 to 3545 lbs, depending on trim level
2013 Subaru OB 2.5i ....... 3423 to 3528 lbs, depending on trim level
Sorry for not checking the curb weights first, that was a bad comparison on my part (but good information for anyone who might be cross-shopping the two vehicles).

I would tend to think the ride height would play into safety as well by seating your body above more road obstacles (though, not necessarily true based on how the car "crumples" on impact with something from below). Perhaps the CR-V is safer for some road obstacles from that standpoint. The base point is to do some research beyond just looking at a crash test safety rating to figure out what it really means when cross-shopping vehicles.
 

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Using the insurance quote is not valid.. there are too many other factors besides the safety of the vehicles that go into an insurance quote.

In your example I think you are right, the Hummer is probably safer if it gets in an accident with a Smart.. but I can almost guarantee you it will have a much much higher insurance premium than the Smart... (assuming both cars were still made and you're talking brand new cars)

The hummer would have higher insurance because:
- It is expensive to fix in a crash (higher initial cost)
- It has an 8 cylinder engine (more cylinders generally raises costs)
- It is/was a higher theft vehicle (guessing here, but I bet it was)
- It most likely appeals to a group of buyers who get more speeding tickets and have more accidents than the Smart. (I know I had seen the Hummer way up at the top of the list of "most pulled over vehicles").
- It might not actually be "safer" because it is much more likely to roll over, and much more likely to be involved in single vehicle accidents where the driver loses control since it has a high level of power and poor handling. There is much more to vehicle safety than how it protects occupants in a multi-vehicle accident.

For what it's worth the Outback has super cheap premiums... it apparently has great factors across many categories. It is safe, it is not crashed very often, it appeals to and is owned by responsible drivers, the drivers do not get many speeding tickets, and it doesn't seem to appeal to thieves.
 

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I called my insurance agent before ordering my 2013 OB 3.6R. It will replace an '04 Camry. He said my premium will only increase $10/mo! I'm a 54 year old driver with no accidents and excellent credit, which are also factors, but safety must be a large part.
 

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I called my insurance agent before ordering my 2013 OB 3.6R. It will replace an '04 Camry. He said my premium will only increase $10/mo! I'm a 54 year old driver with no accidents and excellent credit, which are also factors, but safety must be a large part.
I priced insurance when I bought my 2005 Impreza RS v WRX. The WRX was over double that of the RS. The same platform, same safety equipment.

When I recently replaced an '06 Hyundai with my '06 Forester it went up slightly. The Forester is a MUCH safer car (side airbags, side impact beam, yada yada yada) BUT it also books nearly twice as much as the Hyundai and is therefore more expensive to fix (or replace).

In both of these instances, relying on insurance rates would have provided the wrong interpretation.

Insurance companies look at one thing when calculation premiums. How much will they have to pay. They use a multitude of factors to figure this out, but in the end the safety of the occupants is only a marginal part of that decision.
 

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...so true. You have to compare apples to apples and not apples to oranges. Can't compare a smart car to a full sized vehicle.
 

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Discussion Starter #8
Using the insurance quote is not valid.. there are too many other factors besides the safety of the vehicles that go into an insurance quote.

In your example I think you are right, the Hummer is probably safer if it gets in an accident with a Smart.. but I can almost guarantee you it will have a much much higher insurance premium than the Smart... (assuming both cars were still made and you're talking brand new cars)

The hummer would have higher insurance because:
- It is expensive to fix in a crash (higher initial cost)
- It has an 8 cylinder engine (more cylinders generally raises costs)
- It is/was a higher theft vehicle (guessing here, but I bet it was)
- It most likely appeals to a group of buyers who get more speeding tickets and have more accidents than the Smart. (I know I had seen the Hummer way up at the top of the list of "most pulled over vehicles").
- It might not actually be "safer" because it is much more likely to roll over, and much more likely to be involved in single vehicle accidents where the driver loses control since it has a high level of power and poor handling. There is much more to vehicle safety than how it protects occupants in a multi-vehicle accident.

For what it's worth the Outback has super cheap premiums... it apparently has great factors across many categories. It is safe, it is not crashed very often, it appeals to and is owned by responsible drivers, the drivers do not get many speeding tickets, and it doesn't seem to appeal to thieves.
All good points benima and you are right, it is probably not a good indicator of safety of the vehicle's design in a collision alone. Regarding the V8 engine making insurance rates higher, I think that ties into your other point
It most likely appeals to a group of buyers who get more speeding tickets
Who needs more cylinders and horsepower in a vehicle generally? Someone who wants to accelerate quickly and go fast (barring the truck-types).

As you mentioned, the drivers that the car attracts factor into the accident statistics for the vehicle and therefore cause the insurance rates to go up, so it's not a completely fair measure of vehicle safety from that standpoint.

Insurance companies look at one thing when calculation premiums. How much will they have to pay. They use a multitude of factors to figure this out, but in the end the safety of the occupants is only a marginal part of that decision.
Just something to mull over: Think about how much hospital bills from a significant collision between two families of four costs the "at fault" driver's insurance company compared to base price of most vehicles. We're once again talking apples and oranges, so the amount of injury sustained by the vehicle rather than delivering it to its occupants and the amount of damage the vehicle is capable of inflicting to another vehicle will certainly factor highly into the insurance costs for the vehicle (depending on the perceived risk of a major accident with said vehicle). To again go against my Hummer H3 vs. Smart Fortwo example having higher insurance rates, it is capable of inflicting more damage and therefore the insurance rates would increase by some percentage as a result based on all the factors benima mentioned and more even though the H3 better protects its occupants (which is the measure I was initially trying to single out to some degree by looking at insurance rates). I would have to believe that safety plays more than a marginal part in determining insurance rates based on the costs alone.
 

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I owned a 2012 Camry SE before my outback. My insurance premium went down 200 dollars when I traded to my 2013 Outback 2.5i Premium 6MT. Primary reasoning was less theft as told to me by my insurance agent.
 

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Occupant safety is one determining factor, but not the biggest one. Driver profiling and cost to fix a 5mph collision (the most common type) are very important. The previous RAV4 got low marks because the test where they back up at 5mph into a pole caused almost $9,000 in damage. This is, by the way, the reason Toyota removed the spare tire from the back door of the RAV4.

Oh, and someone mentioned the Hummer H3 being more expensive because it has a V8. It is true that a V8 is available now, but most of them are 5 cylinder.
 
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