Ten top tips for buying a SAFE car
Legally, a car is supposed to be sold with a WoF no older than 30 days. This is seldom adhered to, especially with private sellers. But do look for a current WoF sticker or insist on a new check with a reputable inspection agent to ensure the vehicle’s road worthiness; our WoF system includes checks for structural rust, steering and suspension wear, braking efficiency, among other important considerations.
2: Newer is Better
Generally cars become safer as new innovations are discovered. European vehicles tend to lead the way in terms of safety, so a slightly older Mercedes may offer similar protection and driver aids as a newer Toyota, but as a rule of thumb the newer the vehicle you can obtain the better off you’ll be in terms of safety features.
3: Airbags rule
They’ve been labeled the most significant advancement in vehicle safety since the seatbelt. Of course, there are exceptions, relevant to severity of an individual incident, but it’s proven that airbags save lives. Period. Look for models with as many as you can find. Dual airbags assist protection you and a passenger from frontal collision, side airbags protect thorax and internal organs during side impacts and curtain airbags help reduce head injuries to front and rear occupants in side impacts.
Important to note: they are designed to be used in conjunction with your safety belt; in fact, they can be harmful if you’re not wearing it. An airbag light on the dash should come on with the ignition, and then turn off automatically after a few seconds; this indicates the computer’s self-diagnosis deems the system correct and functional.
4: Check seatbelts
Again, a WoF item, but always inspect the seatbelts for sun fading (UV light significantly degrades the seatbelt material) and fraying (a weak point in the seatbelt webbing tears the belt in half under load with surprising ease). Seems pedantic, but these are your number one safety guards against more serious injury in the more common, minor accidents. Let alone the protection they offer in serious crashes.
Inspect wear across the full width of the tyre. Poor wheel alignment, modified suspension or abuse may cause the inner or outer edge of the tyre to wear. This significantly reduces grip as the vehicle’s weight shifts onto the tyre mid corner and can lead to the steel belt becoming exposed and the tyre rupturing. If the tyre doesn’t have 1.5mm (minimum) of tread across all of its surface area it needs replacing. Tyre tread patterns or brands should never be different on the same axle (front or rear) as this can lead to grip imbalance and cause loss of control.
6: Winter Tyres
These are often fitted with vehicles imported from Japan or cold climates. Winter tyres are primarily designed for extreme conditions and use in snow/ice. However they are less effective on wet roads or normal day to day operation. They can still be used, but always remember to drive conservatively. Again, very important to check winter tyres are never mixed with summer tyres, this dramatically alters the vehicles handling.
7: Electronic Stability Program
Electronic stability program (ESP), Dynamic stability control (DSC), Active Stability Control (ASC). It’s all different names for the same thing. Don’t expect to find ESP on many mainstream cars older than five years, but if a vehicle is fitted with it, it should be a strong consideration. It’s not foolproof, but does work brilliantly and helps eliminate understeer (going too fast for corner, front wheels sledge wide often causing vehicle to cross centre line) and oversteer (loss of traction, rear end pivots around centre axis). If you’re concerned about the safety of a teenage driver, this is worth paying extra for.
8: Crash Test Results / Videos
New Car Assessment Program (NCAP) have standardized crash test to independently rate most new vehicles with a five star system. It is replicated in this part of the world by Australian NCAP (ANCAP).
It’s worth investigating the NCAP reports on models you’re looking for and seeing how they stack up. YouTube is also a good source of crash test video footage so you can see for yourself how the cabin holds together in a 50km/h impact.
Cars are designed with very specific ‘crumple’ characteristics in mind, items like non-factory approved bull bars may alter these. Poor repairs may also change how the vehicle reacts in future accidents and items like larger wheels and lowered suspension change suspension geometry from standard and should always be certified by a low volume vehicle certifier to ensure they are within New Zealand’s strict guidelines.
10: Simple checks
A broken $20 power steering belt is all it takes to make a vehicle dangerous to drive. Power Steering is more commonly electric now, but on older vehicles always check engine’s drive belt for cracking. Brake fluid should be translucent; dirty looking and it indicates poor maintenance, it will pay to look further into the braking system to ensure it’s not in a bad state.
A ‘bounce’ test on the suspension should give you a rough idea of the shock absorber condition, a firm sharp push on the corner of the car will depress the suspension, it should be firm and return to rest after the first bounce. Also look underneath for signs of oil weeping from the suspension struts/shock absorbers.
Catch up on previous car buying tips:
How NOT to be ripped off
Tips for buying a RELIABLE car
Ten checks YOU can do
Road testing a car
Making sure a car is right for YOU