Parents will instinctively do anything to protect their children, but many forget that not all family vehicles are created equal in terms of crash safety.
In the most basic sense, curb weight — vehicle mass — matters in terms of frontal-impact protection, with heavier vehicles doing a better job of protecting vehicle occupants. As Russ Rader, senior vice president of communications for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), told AutoWeb: “For a family prioritizing overall safety in a variety of crash scenarios, the larger, heavier car is a better choice.”
Researching curb weight isn’t difficult, and it’s not important that the consumer understand automotive engineering — more specifically, how a vehicle protects its occupants in an accident. That’s left to the IIHS and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), organizations that run dozens of vehicles through a battery of crash tests each year and then publish the results.
To come up with a list of the safest used family vehicles, we looked at curb weight and crash test scores. To qualify, each vehicle needed to weigh more than 3,000 pounds while receiving both a 5-star overall crash protection rating from the NHTSA and a “Top Safety Pick” rating from the IIHS. Then we factored in comfort, practicality, and affordability, drawing the line at $20,000 as a base price that includes an automatic (or similar) transmission.