Vehicle safety, what should you look out for

Vehicle safety, what should you look out for

motomatch / 16 August 2021

What You Should Know About Vehicle Safety When Buying A Car?

When you’re looking to buy a car, you’re probably dreaming about something comfortable, affordable and that’s a little bit stylish, too. But what about safety? While all cars sold in SA have to adhere to specific standards, how well each vehicle brand and model meets these requirements can vary dramatically. In this article, we break down vehicle safety for you (no pun intended!).

What are the different safety ratings and how are they determined?

All vehicles sold in SA for use on public roads are required to meet a set of regulations, which are set out by the National Regulator for Compulsory Specifications (NRCS). These specifications are aligned with European equivalents, and cover a range of components and systems:

  • Air bags and frontal-impact specs, including rearward movement of steering controls in a crash
  • Brake systems
  • Lights
  • Glass
  • Mirrors
  • Seat belts, child restraints and anchorages

Before any vehicle can be put on sale, it has to go through an approval process that requires the manufacturer or importer to provide NCRS with evidence of conformance, based on test reports from accredited testing facilities. Although the NCRS validation gives you as the buyer some assurance that minimum standards have been met, this conformance doesn’t really help you differentiate between the safety specs on different vehicles.

However, ratings from the New Car Assessment Programme (NCAP) can be a huge help. NCAP is a non-legislative, voluntary programme that exists to provide buyers with key information on the safety of passenger vehicles. Global NCAP acts as a platform for all the different programmes to co-operate, and it promotes the universal adoption of the UN’s most significant car safety standards. Although it’s not legally required for cars to go through an NCAP assessment, its ratings are widely reported and well known in the automotive industry. Because more and more consumers are demanding visibility of vehicle safety ratings, many manufacturers now voluntarily co-operate with NCAP.

To determine the vehicle's safety, the following is assessed before, during and after impact:

  • Bodyshell integrity
  • Airbag deployment and pressure
  • Adult occupant protection
  • Child restraints
  • Safety equipment

Which safety features should you look out for when buying any car?

Modern technology has given us an array of fantastic, high-tech safety features, but there are three that you should never compromise on, no matter how young or old a car is:

  1. ABS (anti-lock breaking system). This prevents the wheels from locking up and forcing the car to skid in the event of a hard break, so that the driver still has control of the car.

  2. DSC (electronic stability control; AKA: ESP or DSC). It detects and reduces the loss of traction on the road and therefore improves the vehicle’s stability if necessary.

  3. Airbags. Now more common than not, airbags have the sole function of protecting the driver and passenger from injury in the event of a collision.

Remember, it doesn’t matter what the car comes with, new or old. Everything has to actually work for it to be viable – make sure you test everything, and ask for certificates where appropriate.

Which general safety features should you prioritise when buying a second-hand car?

Check all of these yourself, don’t just take the seller’s word for it:

  • Does the car have ABS, ESC and working airbags?
  • Check that all lights (including brake lights) and indicators work
  • Carefully check that there are no cracks in the windscreen – even tiny cracks can grow!
  • Make sure the wiper mechanism is working. Also check that the wipers aren’t rusted or falling apart; if they are you may need to fork out to replace them
  • Check that all tyres have enough tread. If not, it’s up to you whether you replace them yourself, or ask the seller to replace and knock the price off the car
  • Check that there is a spare tyre, spanner and jack in the back. Jumper leads are also very useful. If the car doesn’t come with any, consider buying some, especially if you’re purchasing a second-hand vehicle that doesn’t automatically switch the lights off after a period of time
  • Is the suspension fine? When you bounce the car does it feel tight, or does it bounce loosely? If so, it could mean that the shocks need to be replaced
  • When last was the battery replaced? Is it in a good condition? Is the water topped up?
  • Test the brakes. Do they respond immediately and smoothly, or do they vibrate or make a noise?
  • Are there any leaks or bad smells (like burning or gas) coming from the exhaust? Check also for any strange noises or vibrations
  • Check that all cooling fluids are at the correct levels and that the radiator cap seals properly

What questions should you ask regarding safety when buying a second-hand car?

Before you sign on the dotted line and purchase a second-hand car, there are a handful of very important questions to ask. These will give you a sense of how well the car has been maintained, and whether you can expect any big costs further down the line:

  1. Was this car ever in any kind of accident? If so, what kind of accident? What was damaged? If the seller seems evasive or doesn’t know the answer because there have been a few previous owners, check the car carefully to see if there has been any extensive paintwork done. Check under the bonnet to see if anything looks like it’s been resprayed. Do the carpets match the rest of the upholstery? A minor vender-bender that has been repaired properly is one thing, but a severe accident that actually damaged the chassis of the car is a big no-no. Get a trustworthy mechanic to check if you’re unsure.

  2. When last were the tyres replaced? If the tread is very shallow or non-existent, you will need to budget to have these replaced ASAP as worn tyres are a huge threat to your safety. It’s also important to note that if the tyres are so worn out that they look like they’ve never been replaced, it may be that the rest of the car hasn’t been maintained properly either.

  3. Have the shocks and brakes been replaced? If so, when? Shocks wear down over time and should be replaced about 60 000kms. Worn shocks can increase the stopping distance of a car and contribute to an accident, so this is something you need to replace if it hasn’t been done already.

Ask the seller to provide you with proof of anything that they’ve claimed to have fixed, such as a receipt, Tax Invoice or Proof of Payment.

In a nutshell

It’s really important to do your homework on any vehicle you’re looking at buying. Second-hand cars are great, affordable options, and many more recent models have additional safety features that really do enhance the quality of the sale. Just remember to check everything and ask for proof if you need to. Never be afraid to ask the tough questions – the safety of you and your family is the priority! If in doubt, chat to a reputable mechanic and ask their advice.