We just bought a 1984 Honda Accord hatchback with 135,000 miles on it for our college-age daughter. But now we worry that it doesn’t have airbags. What is the relative safety of an old Honda without airbags vs. a new, cheap car with?
That car would have been pretty middle-of-the-road safety-wise when it came out-- but that’s because in the mid-80’s size was pretty much the only factor in crash-survivability. Nowadays there are some small cars that are engineered to weather severe accidents better, but most aren’t and for those that are airbags are only a small component. The airbags that are required on newer cars are mostly there to save people who don’t wear their seatbelt-- if your daughter wears her seatbelt, having or not having frontal airbags will be a negligable factor. Cheapies like Kias or Scions won’t be much better than what she’s got now-- to get her a small car that’s safe will be a bigger chunk of change.
The other aspect is that newer cars have accident aviodance features like ABS and stability control. I personally think these tend to make drivers, especially young drivers, over-confident and that they’re better off without them.
If your daughter is a responsible person and a somewhat experianced driver, I’d say there’s no reason to worry-- the accord is by no means an especially unsafe car. If you have reason for concern over your daughter’s driving, a used mid-sized sedan will provide considerably better safety, with only marginal reduction in fuel economy. Something like a used Taurus or any Buick model would the bill.
Airbags can be useful in certain rare situations. The vast majority of cars so equipped live out their normal lifespans without ever setting off their airbags.
Certainly we can deem a car equipped with airbags as “safer” than one without them, but we are talking about the difference between 98% and 99% or thereabouts. My recommendation is for you to relax about this airbag situation. Try to ensure your daughter is a responsible person.
If safety is a primary concern beyond air bags I would look for an inexpensive car built in the 2000’s. Car design became significantly better with regard to safety than back in the 80’s for sure and 90’s too.
Airbags are overrater and can cause more problems than they fix. For instance, studies have shown that the chances of getting injured in a car crash are no different with or without airbags. Also, smaller people, especially women, are at higher risk of injury as a result of airbag deployment than larger people. There have been a number of cases throughout the early to mid 90’s where children have been decapitated by a deploying airbag.
Also, airbags can have a tendency to deploy without cause - it has happened in almost every model of car made. When an airbag deploys unintentionally, it will distract the driver and likely cause a collision. Also, deploying airbags can severely injure drivers, inlcuding severed thumbs and fingers, and broken arms and wrists.
Airbags, when they were first used in cars, in the late 80’s or early 90’s, deployed with one speed, which was dangerously powerful. In the mid to late 90’s the NHTSA recommended airbags change. They now deploy with a low and high speed (depending on the severity of the collision) and the high speed is less than what airbags used originally.
Airbags are also most effective when the occupants are wearing their seatbelt(s). Airbags are a supplemental restrain system (hence the SRS printed on the steering wheel and passenger airbag cover.) That is, they are to be used as an addition to proper seatbelt use. Occupants not wearing seatbelts can be more injured by a deployed airbag than without an airbag deployment.
The car not having an airbag should not be a concern. As far as I’m concerned, airbags should be an option, but every car should be immobilized until occupants have their seatbelts on. That would make for a much safer car than relying on passive, and dangerous, supplemental restraints.
The airbag-less car is fine.