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Safest car? 1993 Volvo 240 wagon/tank with 238,000 miles versus 2004 Prius/tin can with 28,000 miles

My daughter LOVES her ‘93 Volvo 240 wagon. Over the past 10 years it has taken her on road trip adventures all over the country. Other than a few minor parts falling off here and there (trim, door handle, belly pan) it has been sturdy and reliable. I used to drive it, and personally still miss its turn-on-a dime turning radius and 360 degree visibility. What a great car! She now has the opportunity to inherit her grandparents’ 2004 Prius 4-door sedan with front and side airbags that has 28,000 miles on it. We, her parents, feel this is a safer option at this point in the Volvo’s lifespan, and are pushing her to switch from the Volvo to the Prius. I want to be sure we are giving her the best advice, since I worry, despite the more modern safety features of the Prius, that switching from a hefty tank to what seems to me to be a tin can (the Prius) may actually be less safe. She drives on freeways with semis, and I feel the Prius will squish in an accident versus the indestructible Volvo. On the other hand, if the Volvo breaks down in a dark alley, that is not safe either. My daughter does not work on cars, though she has a good mechanic, and will likely be pouring more and more money into the Volvo for upkeep. But the real reason for considering the change is safety. We’ve already researched all the online safety ratings but they are difficult to compare given the ages of the cars as well as the difference in size class. (Of course we are taking into account what she will lose by switching from a classic car (nods and waves from fellow 240 owners) to a stodgy politically correct vehicle.) What can you tell my daughter about the relative safety of these two choices?

I hesitate to spout off but while the newer car will have air bags and crush zones to absorb an impact, I think she should drive what she wants and what she is comfortable with. These features only are useful in an accident so the goal should be to avoid accidents, then its a moot point. I’ve put on over a million miles and haven’t had a moving accident since 1968 and many of those miles were in older cars without air bags or crush zones. I never felt unsafe. So I would recommend rather to enroll her in a National Safety Council approved defensive driving class to learn accident avoidance techniques. Learning about maintaining safe zones all around the car, safe following distances, anticipating errors by other drivers, and so on, will contribute more to long term safety than air bags.


If I’ve found accurate specs, the “tin can” weighs more than the “tank”, so there’s some food for thought.

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I’m guessing the daughter is 25 or older. Time for the parents to let go, it is her decision.

The Prius is safer. The Volvo has more room and a great roof for carrying things like bikes and kayaks.

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Contrary to the OP’s beliefs, that “tank” is actually far less safe in a collision than most modern small cars. When the Volvo was built, it was very safe–for that time period. However, the advances in safety engineering in the 23 years since it was designed means that it greatly lags modern cars–even fairly small ones–in terms of passenger protection.

Take a look at this comparison of a Volvo “tank” and a small, much newer Renault “tin can” when they collide, head-on:


The Prius is probably safer.

Does the Prius have a takata air bag?

Agree that the Prius is probably much safer than the “tank” Volvo. Volvo pioneered safety, but that was a long time ago. The “tank” qualities probably refer to the fact that the body is not rusted out yet, not how safe it is. That would only become apparent in and accident.

So, put the Volvo myth to bed and have her try out the much safer Prius.

The prior clip says it all!

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Prius. It is safer, more reliable, and much less expensive to keep running. At this age, repairs to the Volvo are really maintenance items. Everything that has not been replaced or repaired will need it much sooner on the Volvo than the Toyota.

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between its ability to direct energy around the passengers, its ability to absorb energy through “crush zones”, its air bags, and its other safety features, the Prius is far, far safer than the '93 Volvo. And will be far more reliable. Not breaking down in a bad neighborhood is a safety feature all by itself.

Call the Prius a “tin can” if you’d like, but it’s a far safer car for your daughter.


Perhaps related to all of this, on another site that I frequent, there was a similar discussion, and some ignorant person claimed that one would be much safer in the cars of yesteryear that “didn’t collapse like a tin can” when they are in a collision.

I attempted to explain that the older, more rigid car would transmit the full force of impact to its occupants, while the modern car would absorb most of those forces–thus making the occupants much less prone to serious injury. Unfortunately, that guy was unable to comprehend this example of some fairly basic physics.

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Sigh! so many people are unable to understand basic physics (and basic math). I think the very term “physics” turns a lot of people off.

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One more reason to go with the Prius - even though the Volvo was made in 1993 (the last year for them), it was first made in 1974. So it’s a 40+ year old design. MUCH has improved since then.

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Volvo pioneered the crush zone body with the 240, and it was a very remarkable car for its time. ER doctor were known to go out and buy them after seeing patients who survived car accidents that up till then were generally not survivable.

But the technology has marched on and all cars built in 2004 are better than the old 240. Thats just progress.

But, why can’t she have both cars. Use the Prius for her daily drive and the Volvo for hauling stuff. She should only need the basic insurance on the Volvo and if it is not used as a daily driver, the premium should not be very high. The money she saves on gas should cover it.

I think the Prius will be safer but you have other issues. A 2004 Hybrid with such low miles could be a problem and need repairs pretty soon. That on its own would make the car “unsafe” because part of safety is not being stranded at 2 AM in some vague neighborhood.

If it was me (or my family), I will sell both cars and buy a 2012 or newer sedan (Camry, Accord, etc) with side airbags, ABS and Bluetooth.

Good idea, @galant

I dont know why people cant accept the fact that its better to walk away from a crash ,from a totaled car ,then to be scraped off the inside of an old car you could probably drive away from a pretty serious crash.You can buy another car easily with the money you save on hospital bills or funeral expenses .

"I dont know why people cant accept the fact that its better to walk away from a crash ,from a totaled car ,then to be scraped off the inside of an old car you could probably drive away from a pretty serious crash.

The only possible explanation–IMHO–is a total lack of knowledge of basic physics.
Or, perhaps those folks simply don’t believe in the Laws of Physics.

One of my favorite movie scenes is in Louis Malle’s Atlantic City, when the hippie chick says, “I don’t believe in gravity”. Some people have a hard time accepting both reality and established science.

Watch the 59 impala/2009 Impala crash. The 59 folds up like a cheap suit

The 1959 Impala is a sweet car, though. Check out that Continental kit!