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Older car versus safety of newer model

I was listening to Car Talk today and a woman called in regarding whether to drive an older car (saving money) or a newer one (with airbags for safety.) The answer seemed to be airbags are more important. I am driving a 1990 Toyota Camry (about 65000 miles, all my own as I bought it brand new) and it’s in good shape. However it only has seatbelts, no air bags. I am on older woman with a good driving record and only drive locally. But I’m wondering if I should buy a newer model car (still used) with air bags. If so, should I have front and side air bags? I would have to buy it with my equity line. I’ve been secretly coveting a Scion “breadbox”.

If you do get a newer car for safety, definitely get both front and side airbags. The newer Scion xB has both. Do not get the first generation xB, it was very lightly made, would be less safe than your Camry.

this video should help

Keep the Camry, it is still a good car. Don’t get a lighter one if you want safety.

I would keep the Camry and invest in a defensive driving course for $150 or so. Keeping out of trouble is a real life saver, and with your low miles driven each year you can really improve the odds of not having an accident in the first place!

Wow! I would have bet money on the Volvo.

Overall, I agree with Doc. However, no amount of defensive driver training can fully protect you from inattentive/drunk/drugged/reckless drivers, or from errant animals, or from other vehicles with defects.

As some examples, a friend of mine is a very careful driver. In fact, he tends to be a bit overly cautious in my opinion. Over a period of two years, he had two deer-related accidents–neither of which would have been avoidable, even for the most skillful driver.

Then, about 2 years ago, I was with him when his Accord was T-boned by a woman in a Lexus RX-type SUV. We weren’t even on a road when it happened, and in fact, we were in a Shell gas station when the woman’s SUV left the highway and broadsided us! At the time, she told police officers that she was unable to slow the car by braking it, and we all–police officers included–assumed that she was one of those people who has a hard time distinguishing between the gas pedal and the brake pedal. Now, I am beginning to wonder if her vehicle was suffering from Toyota Uncontrolled Acceleration Syndrome. While we will never know the answer to why she was unable to stop her vehicle, the fact remains that, for my friend, no matter what driver training he might have received, this was another unavoidable accident.

By comparison, I drive the same roads that he does, and–I hesitate to say this for fear of jinxing myself–I have not had an automotive accident of any kind since ~1976, when I was mildly rear-ended while stopped at a traffic light. Clearly I have been very lucky.

I also believe that, to some extent, my 34 year accident-avoidance record is evidence that I have better-than-average defensive driving skills, but my luck could end at any time, and I could be the victim of someone else’s recklessness/inattention/intoxication at any time.

And, it should be noted that the type of accident in which a side airbag or a side-curtain airbag would protect you is the type that is largely unavoidable, due to the type of impact.

The Volvo in that crash test was manufactured during the era when Volvo (and Mercedes) were true pioneers in building safer cars for their occupants.

However, that was then, and this is now. In the intervening years, other car makers have caught up with Volvo and Mercedes, and the result is that even a small, cheap car manufactured since…2006 or so will be safer for its occupants than even a larger car manufactured back in the era prior to crumple zones, high-strength steel, pre-tensioning shoulder harnesses and multiple airbags.

A new Volvo is a very safe car, but then again, so are small cars like the Mazda 3, the Subaru Impreza, and the VW Golf, which sell for thousands of $$ less than the Volvo.

Yes, overall I’m more worried about other people’s driving than my own. The average age in my area (Venice FL) is 69 and a lot of “strange” accidents happen. I have a 91 year old friend and I won’t ride with her - she scares me to death. Fortunately her a/c is broken so that’s a good excuse.

Defensive driving is what it’s all about.

I surely am appreciating all the feedback!!

Getting a new car is well worth the piece of mind. As demonstrated, it’s overall engineering and not just car size that determines survivability. Air bags are important enough. So isn’t functioning safety devises. If, in my opinion, you buy new for air bags, include a model with side ABs as well. Even a good driver can get side swiped. I’ve seen the results of lots of accidents, and most of the walk-aways were driving slower and/or had air bags. All that said, you still have to weigh it against your financial resources and I have second thoughts about buying anything on time (esp. with my mortgage) in my older years. If I haven’t saved up for it, I don’t buy it.

yeah. sideswiped

I worked long before there was anything going on for side air bags…the two side collisions I was involved in (investigating), passengers didn’t do well in receiving car even in fairly slow intersection collision. Nothing helped back then except really low speeds.

You sound very reasonable and I am sure you are going to make an intelligent decision. I would not buy a new car for air bags alone, but when buying a new car, I will consider all available safety equipment and features.

The safest choice would be a large car with front and side bags, and side curtains. You want side curtains to protect your head in side impact. You can research the cars crash safety ratings at, and at

The IIHS site also provides real world death rates for various cars:) Apparently a small car is about 15% more dangerous than a large car.

A 1990 Toyota Camry? Boring. You deserve a new car. Maybe. Are you a gambler?

Size doesn’t matter. Some large cars have terrible crash test ratings while some small cars get five-star ratings. For example, a MINI Cooper will protect you better than some large SUVs, and it doesn’t roll over. Look at and [for cars sold both in the US and elsewhere.

However, if your car runs well and you’re on a limited budget, does it really make any sense to use an equity loan to buy a used car, putting your home at risk? I wouldn’t–ever. Wait until you can save enough for a down payment. Look at a new car, or a leftover when the new models are released in the summer. Join a credit union if you can to get a good rate on a loan. Get rid of the equity account. It’s not worth losing your house for a car.

The Scion XB is nice, but I’d wait until they make the windows bigger again. It’s like driving with your eyes closed! I’m amazed at how well made the Ford Focus is, also the Fusion. My dad just bought a Focus coupe [MT], financing it–and he’s 92! Both cars have incentives as high as $2000-$4000. If they bring back the Focus ZX5, it’s the most versatile model. Buy American! Finally.

The Mini might not roll over, but if a large SUV hits it it’ll be ROLLED OVER

There was an accident on a bridge near here last month where a school bus swerved across the double line and hit a MINI Cooper, almost head on. The MINI was totaled. The driver got out and looked around, a bit shaken, but lightly bruised. He was taken to the hospital and released in good condition soon after.

A MINI Cooper has curtain airbags: Six airbags, two in front, two on the side of the front seats, curtain airbags in the side structure, all with sensors that adjust the airbag inflation depending on conditions. Even in a rollover, it’s not likely that a driver/rider wearing a seatbelt would be severely injured.

A Smart ForTwo has been crash tested by crashing it into a concrete wall at 70 mph, also hit by a tractor-trailer at high speed. In both tests [using crash test dummies] the car didn’t get crushed, it didn’t roll over. Since it’s egg-shaped, it ricocheted a few times, then spun around. When the testers went to the car, they opened the driver’s door, which was loose due to impact damage, and started up the car. They could have driven it away if one of the wheels hadn’t been damaged. The dummy was securely in the driver’s seat with minor damage.

I’m not recommending that the lady with the Camry buy a Smart or a MINI unless she wants that. However, much of the propaganda about small cars being unsafe is false, and being spread by manufacturers of big vehicles, those who sell the big vehicles, and the fuel companies. They all make more money by selling big cars that are not necessarily safer, and in many cases less safe, than small cars.

Size matters. That was the point of an IIHS test series crashing small cars into mid size cars. Size also shows in the real world data posted on the IIHS web site. Size doesn’t always effect NCAP or IIHS crash ratings as they crash cars into barriers. There is only one car, so size doesn’t matter. Crash into another vehicle and momentum is conserved. The small car gets a bigger delta V.