On car safety, size and age

Our 2000 Minivan (Dodge Caravan) is getting really old. Has 156K miles on it and has needed many repairs along the way. Currently the paint on the roof and hood are gone (primer mixed with just metal). The electrical switches and lights are going out one by one, needs new front suspension, timing chain cover is leaking, seals are seeping, the list goes on. Since it is not very reliable, we only drive it locally, use it to take kids to school, wife goes to work and local shopping. All this puts 1300 to 1500 miles on the car and since it is all stop and go, we only get ~16 MPG.
The next up car is a 2005 Camry that is still considered new with 94K miles on it, I use this for my daily commute (~50 miles). Has no side airbags.
It seems if we completely retire the Minivan, we will need another car.
I know newer cars are safer, I also read the article on size and car safety and know the heavier cars/SUV’s do better in crashes.

Now my question;
Would a 2010 and up newer small car with side airbags/VSC (Lets say a Prius or a Mazda 3), be safer than the 2005 Camry with no side airbags (but one size larger)? How to they compare to the 2000 Dodge Caravan?
I can not find any info on this. Bear in mind the driver factor is always the same/drives defensively etc.
On a side note I never thought I would ever want to buy a Prius, but a combined mileage of 50 esp given my wife is always in stop and go traffic, would save us enough money to be able to even lease a new Prius (but we never lease, I am looking at CPO used ones to buy with cash).

Crash safety…Not sure which would be safer.

But one thing I like about my 4runner over my wifes Lexus ES-350 is that I sit higher up. Being higher up I can see farther down the road in traffic…thus having a better chance of avoiding a problem.

I will only consider cars with side airbags, they make a major difference in side-on crashes, which are pretty common. So find a car with side airbags. They were standard on quite a few, like the 2005 Accord, and were optional on the 2005 Camry.

This is about as close as you get:


For the safety of your passengers, click on the question mark in the personal injury column and then click on the sort button. Lower numbers are better, and green is the best group for safety. This rating compares all cars and trucks against each other and is collated for insurance data from all US auto insurers. The results are not just a result of a safe vehicle, but include driver safety too. If you look at similar products, they do not have the same rating. The VW Rutan, Chrysler T&C, and Dodge Caravan all have different ratings, but are essentially the same van.

You are asking questions that really only scientific test data could answer. I do feel the the more airbags you have the better, especially in a smaller car. So, I think a new Prius with side air bags is roughly equivalent to an SUV. However the SUV with side airbags would be safer than a Prius with side airbags. Size still matters when both cars have a full array of air bags.

If you buy a small, or smaller car, get the newest model you can afford and make sure it has the most up to date airbag and safety technology available.

Thanks for the comments.

@jtsanders; I have looked at that info, I looked at it again. Some of the numbers do not make sense. Some of the cars with high safety ratings have high personal injuries. Makes me think other factors are responsible, like the demographics of buyers and the volume/fleet etc.

For example the Prius doing better than the Civic SI/Lancer evo to me doesn’t say the Prius is a safer car.


“Makes me think other factors are responsible, like the demographics of buyers and the volume/fleet etc.”

Thanks for agreeing with me.

I agree with @texases on by side air bags on your next car. In addition, please consider that a reliable car is a safer car all other things being equal.

“Thanks for agreeing with me.”

Thanks for leading me in the correct direction.
I used to do some research; in the medical field you could just apply statistics to your data to figure if something is significant, or like others use statistics to make your data look significant. Guess why I had less publications than my studies.

"please consider that a reliable car is a safer car all other things being equal"
Nothing better than a 14 year old Dodge Caravan to apply that to. The times this car has been stuck/towed is more than the sum of all my other cars during my life. And I have owned this one from a lower mileage and maintained it much better than my other cars.

“…or like others use statistics to make your data look significant”

If research shows an intriguing result, it should be published, even if there are still questions about whether the conclusions are valid. As you know, this gives a lot of other researchers an opportunity to test your hypothesis for validity. If a researcher qualifies the results saying that more work needs to be done, reporting their study is just fine. All they are saying is they have an interesting idea, preliminary results look good, and if several of us give it a try, we’ll get reliable results much quicker.

I wouldn’t want to be in a smrt car or Aveo in a crash on the highway, but they’re probably safer than the minvan you have now

@bscar2; I am not sure about a Smart or Aveo being safer than the Caravan. The Caravan still has no rust and 2 front airbags. The mass is much heavier than the micro-cars. Unless you are factoring in the potential breakdowns as part of safety.
I am not planning to put this to test though.


My 2005 V6 Camry HAS curtain airbags. Perhaps they were standard on the V6 models versus optional on the 4-bangers . . .

I have the LE model. It is by no means optioned out. No high end sound system, sunroof, ESC, etc.

Get the size of car you need with a reasonable safety record. There’s really nothing wrong with the Prius, but it is kind of slow and not of much interest to leadfooted drivers, so probably isn’t really any safer than any other car of the same size. It will give you great gas mileage if you drive it gently. I used to get them from Zipcar and could easily get 50 mpg on highway trips. I’ve even seen 55 mpg on a tank, but that was a steady 50 MPH without AC. People say you only be great savings only in the city, but the highway mileage is also high because it has a smallish engine that is set up to maximize efficiency. Just don’t expect it to be quick or sound happy if you floor it. We ended up buying an Elantra that is less efficient, but we drive so little the Prius would have never paid for itself. Now we’re happy Hyundai owners.

So many factors involved in crash safety. The tests try to demonstrate how passengers do in a “survivable” crash. If you watch utube there are crashes with a big SUV and a semi truck head on that pretty much crunch the big SUV into zillions of tiny pieces. No one survives in these extreme cases, but such accidents are not uncommon.

Size still matters, bigger is better. A smaller car that has lots of airbags and is well designed for safety can do really well in most accidents. I drive an '03 Civic with side airbags (option for that year). Since it isn’t new anymore I’m sure there are lots of smaller cars that would protect me better than the '03 Civic. But I’m not looking at a newer car.

If safety is your key element in the purchase decision. Get the biggest car you can that fits your lifestyle and gets the mpg economy you desire. Then get the newest model year you can afford, and get all the safety features you can afford. Then plan to replace it in 5 to 10 years because significant safety advances will have come on line over that time frame.

@MarkM; That mileage is great. The car is going to be for my wife. I don’t care much about minor MPG numbers, but she does mostly stop and go driving, so a 16 MPG upgrade to 50 MPG would be significant. She also drives 18+K miles a year.

The IIHS data I suggested shows you personal injury data (people injured in your car regardless of fault) in different size categories. Pick a size you like and see how the cars stack up. In the small car category, the GTI and Golf have excellent results, and the Prius is very good for a small car.For safety and economy, those are worth looking at. For mid-size cars, the Fusion hybrid scores well. It seems to me that the Prius scores well in safety tests, it scores will in real work safety, and it gets great gas mileage. If that’s what you want, Prius is worth considering seriously.

Not everyone gets great mileage out of the Prius, but it’s not especially difficult. We never got much less than 45 mpg, and usually 50, and we weren’t hypermiling, either. You will always get better mpg at 60 or 65 than 70 (noticeably better) and we don’t need AC much, though all the recent tests I’ve seen say modern AC isn’t a big drain. We drove a lot of different cars from Zipcar and always got about 10 mog better out of the Priuses than their other cars. When it came to buying, did we get one? No, because we’ll probably drive about 3000 miles per year (or less) , and it wouldn’t have been worth it. We did consider it, because we liked the Prius, but it isn’t for everyone.