In 1997, working out which were the safest models on sale became much easier. That was the year that Euro NCAP was founded, and we’d recommend anyone looking to buy a new car to consult the company’s database of scores before making a purchase.
But what do they assess, and how do they present their findings? Let’s find out.
It is a legal requirement for new cars to pass certain basic safety legislation in their respective countries. Euro NCAP encourages car manufacturers to exceed these requirements by not only testing cars based on a tougher marking scheme of the standardised European Union test, but by introducing further assessments of their own. To keep car manufacturers on their toes, these tests get tougher every year.
How does Euro NCAP test cars?
Euro NCAP buys its own cars for testing in much the same way that the rest of us do (one would imagine by using carwow – the smart way of buying a new car). They then contact the manufacturer to inform them they have bought one of their models (usually four, in order to perform all of the tests necessary). These purchases are generally funded by member groups of the organisation – such as the UK Department of Transport – to test a car which is a strong seller in their own domestic market.
The fact that Euro NCAP relies largely on donations for their tests explains why you rarely see expensive cars rated. If a new model has not yet been released, sometimes manufacturers will donate pre-production models so they can publicise the rating when the car is released.
How do they assess them?
Every car is awarded a star rating, with five being the best, and one being a car you should avoid at all costs. This star rating comprises accumulated marks in four separate categories: adult protection, child protection, pedestrian protection and safety assistance technologies.
Adult occupant protection
There are three main tests to assess adult safety. A frontal impact test measures the protection a car offers when driven into a wall at 40mph. A side impact test replicates the scenario of a car being hit from the side by another vehicle, and the pole test simulates an accident where a car loses control and hits, say, a tree or a lamp post side-on.
Since 2009, tests have been carried out to assess protection against whiplash. Separate dummies full of accelerometers and pressure sensors are used for front and side impact tests to detect likely injuries. Their advanced tech means that each dummy costs about €100,000 (just under £80k) to build – certainly no toy, then!
It was frequently discovered that the causes of many child fatalities in car accidents were the result of poorly fitted child seats. Euro NCAP determine how capable a car is at protecting young children, and at how easy a child seat is to fit. The introduction of Isofix has made securing a child seat much easier, and as a result cars are marked down if they lack this feature.
So that buyers are aware of the risk of injury to pedestrians who walk out into the road in front of them, Euro NCAP tests the ability of bonnets and bumpers to deform in the event of an adult or child being hit. Cars gain extra points for features such as pop-up bonnets and external airbags such as those found on the Volvo V40. It’s worth mentioning that few cars perform well in this test, electing to have stylish rather than safe front-ends.
Safety assistance technology
It’s all well and good that a car is able to withstand an impact admirably, but could it try to prevent one from happening in the first place? That’s where the safety assist category comes in. Euro NCAP scores this category according to how well equipped a car is in terms of safety tech.
To gain even a modest score, it’s necessary for a car to have stability control and seat belt warning lights. Since the start of 2014, a car must also include a lane-departure warning system and brake assist in order to be awarded the maximum five-star rating.
How are Euro NCAP scores decided?
All four areas are weighted against each other, and if one score is particularly poor then it prevents an otherwise strongly scoring car from achieve top marks. As the tests are constantly made more stringent, it is well worth checking out not only what star rating your next car achieves, but when it was tested, too.
Do your research…
Euro NCAP or, failing that, YouTube has an extensive library of car crash test videos and they’re well worth watching. Either select your car from Euro NCAP’s drop down lists and then the videos or search ‘my car crash test’ on YouTube to see the test. On the face of it, it may just seem like a car crashing into a wall, but it’s a great visual way to understand how strong the car’s body is in the event of a crash.
When watching a test side-on (such as the frontal impact test) imagine a box drawn around the roof, down the side of the windscreen, across the bottom of the doors and back up to the roof – this is the passenger safety cell. If this imaginary box deforms during a crash then the car’s body isn’t very rigid. Common points of failure are the meeting of the roof and windscreen or the bottoms of the doors. If the car maintains this imaginary box then it should be very safe.