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Euro NCAP ratings explained: how safe is your car?

December 23, 2021 by

Founded in 1996, the Euro New Car Assessment Programme (Euro NCAP) was established to provide an independent safety rating for new cars.

It was initially created for the UK’s Department for Transport but was later backed across Europe. Euro NCAP’s results are now taken as the most reliable way of assessing new car safety.

What are Euro NCAP ratings?

Euro NCAP ratings take into account three factors of protection — for adults, children and pedestrians — plus the level of safety technology on-board a car.

It serves as a truly independent testbed for new cars on the market. It’s not a legal requirement for cars to have a Euro NCAP test. Such is the status of the ratings though, it can and has had an effect on sales.

For example, the Fiat Punto scored the first-ever zero-star rating in 2017. It’s perhaps not a coincidence it was pulled from the market just a year later.

How are Euro NCAP ratings calculated?

Several tests are undertaken to determine a score in each category:

Adult occupant protection

Adult occupant protection is calculated by impacts at the front, side and rear of the car as well as the ease of rescue and extrication.

Child occupant protection

Safety for children is determined by the capabilities of child restraint systems and the provisions a car has for child seats.

Pedestrian protection

Impacts on the head plus both lower and upper sections of the legs are tested to determine pedestrian safety. The effectiveness of automatic emergency braking on both pedestrians and cyclists is tested too.

Safety assistance technology

The level of safety and effectiveness of technology such as automatic emergency braking, speed assistance, lane monitoring and occupant monitoring is all considered for this category.

What do Euro NCAP ratings mean?

Euro NCAP ratings use a star system, ranging from zero to five. A zero-star rating is the lowest possible rating (and has only ever applied to three cars) with a five-star rating the maximum.

The final rating takes into account the scores across each category tested. Scores in each category don’t use a star rating though, rather a percentile system up to 100%.

However, a high score in one category will not make up for a lower score elsewhere. A poor score in one category can see the whole rating capitulate.

The exact formula Euro NCAP uses to determine scores isn’t public, but it says it’s constantly evolving.

The star rating serves as an easy comparison among cars more than anything. A low score doesn’t necessarily mean a car is unsafe, but that it’s not as safe as comparable cars.

As the barometer for scores is constantly being raised, a five-star rating in one year doesn’t guarantee a five-star rating for the rest of the time the car is on the market.

For example, the Renault Zoe scored five stars when tested in 2013. However, the heavily-updated version was tested again in 2021 — becoming the third car to receive a zero-star rating.

This doesn’t make the Renault Zoe an unsafe car. Rather, it shows how Euro NCAP is constantly improving its standards of safety as technology advances.

How do I find the Euro NCAP rating for a car?

The easiest way to find a Euro NCAP rating for a specific car is to use the board’s website. It has a full database of scores, allowing you to search by model.

Manufacturers will often show Euro NCAP ratings when marketing a car too. That’s particularly the case for those with five stars.

FAQs: Euro NCAP ratings

Is a 3 star Euro NCAP rating bad?

A three-star Euro NCAP is a fairly good rating, but not the absolute best. The star rating ranks cars from zero- to five-star.

What cars have the best Euro NCAP ratings?

Cars rated five stars are deemed to be the safest on the market at the time of testing. You can find a full database of ratings on Euro NCAP’s website.

How long does a Euro NCAP rating last?

A car’s Euro NCAP rating expires after six years. This is because the board constantly raises its standards in scoring as technology advances.

What is the dual Euro NCAP rating system?

Since 2016, some cars have had a ‘dual’ star rating. The first is the standard car without options, with the second for cars that have optional safety features that would otherwise raise their score.

How are Euro NCAP ratings different from global NCAP ratings?

Euro NCAP ratings focus solely on cars sold across Europe. Safety rating boards exist elsewhere around the globe, including the US NCAP in the United States, JNCAP in Japan and Latin NCAP in South America.