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Looking for a safe used car? Think German. The 2007 Used Car Safety Ratings suggest that German-designed cars are among the best choices.

Volkswagen's Golf and Bora, Holden's German-sourced Astra TS and Mercedes-Benz's C-Class all rated well for occupant protection and safety for other road-users.

With improvements to occupant safety, coupled with reduced risk to other road-users, smaller cars have replaced large family cars as the pick of the litter.

In previous years the BMW 3 Series and the family-friendly Holden Commodores and Ford Falcon have been the star performers.

This year the researchers highlighted the Golf, Bora, Astra TS, C-Class, Toyota Corolla and Honda Accord.

The ratings show that if you make the wrong choice of used car, you could be up to 26 times more likely to be killed or seriously hurt in an accident.

The research, by Monash University with the RACV, TAC and VicRoads, shows a staggering difference between used cars.

As new-car safety has improved, it has widened the gap between the safest cars on the road and the most dangerous.

The latest data shows that a Daihatsu Hi-Jet made from 1982-1990 is 26 times more likely to leave occupants dead or seriously injured than a Volkswagen Passat built from 1998-2005.

Two criteria were used: crashworthiness, which is the car's ability to keep its occupants safe; and aggressiveness, which is the likelihood of injury or death to unprotected road-users.

TAC senior manager of road safety David Healy says the ratings will play a crucial role in reducing the road toll.

“It's going to make a huge difference” Healy says. “We know that by producing safer vehicles we can reduce the road toll by up to a third."

“It is another piece of the jigsaw puzzle fitting into place. We now have reliable information on 279 second-hand models on the Australian market."

“That means we have real-world data to tell the consumer the car to buy that's safer in a crash as well as safer for other road-users involved in the crash.”

Of the 279 models covered by the study, 48 were rated “significantly worse than average” for crashworthiness. Another 29 were rated “worse than average”.

On the flip side, 38 models performed “significantly better than average”. Another 48 recorded “better than average”.

It means plenty of safe models are available. You just have to pick the right one.

Australian New Car Assessment Program chairman Ross McArthur: says: “That, for me, is an important bit of information.

“People need to know that picking a car that meets the minimum standard is not enough. You have to be more careful.”

Buying a used car often means there are budget considerations, but that shouldn't rule out safety.

McArthur says the study highlights affordable models and consumer should arm themselves with that knowledge.

“You can get safe cars that are cheaper, and more expensive cars that don't perform as well,” McArthur says. “The key is to be selective. Look around. Don't make the decision on the first vehicle you see.”

And don't always trust used-car salesmen.

“You need to be properly informed. If you are informed, you are in a much better position to make a decision.”

Small cars such as the well-performing 1994-2001 model Peugeot 306 start at $7000.

Family cars such as the Holden Commodore VT-VX and Ford Falcon AU also score well and start at reasonable prices.

The study clearly shows advances in car safety, with newer models being progressively better.

For example, the Holden Commodore VN-VP series received a “worse than average” crashworthiness rating; the later VT-VZ range scored “significantly better than average”.

With stricter safety standards and improved crash-test ratings, McArthur is looking forward to a time when all cars are as safe as they can be.

Until then the Used Car Safety Ratings is a crucial tool to protect drivers.

“I hope we get to the point where every car is a five-star rated car,” McArthur says.

“But as a general rule, the newer the car, the better it performs."

“But that's not always the case, so you need to look at the Used Car Safety Ratings.”


The hit list

How the cars performed in both criteria - crashworthiness (occupant protection) and aggressiveness (risk to pedestrians).


Best performers

Volkswagen Golf (1999-2004, below)

Volkswagen Passat (1999-05)

Holden Astra TS (1998-05)

Toyota Corolla (1998-01)

Honda Accord (1991-93)

Mercedes C-Class (1995-00)

Peugeot 405 (1989-97)


Worst performers

Mitsubishi Cordia (1983-87)

Ford Falcon XE/XF (1982-88)

Mitsubishi Starwagon/Delica (1983-93/1987-93)

Toyota Tarago (1983-89)

Toyota Hiace/Liteace (1982-95)


Crash course in car safety

Small cars

Best performers

Volkswagen Golf (1994-2004)

Volkswagen Bora (1999-04)

Peugeot 306 (1994-01)

Toyota Corolla (1998-01)

Holden Astra TS (1998-05, below)


Worst performers

Volkswagen Golf (1982-94)

Toyota MR2 (1987-90)

Mitsubishi Cordia (1983-87)

Nissan Gazelle/Silvia (1984-86)

Nissan Exa (1983-86)


Medium cars

Best performers

BMW 3 Series E46 (1999-04)

BMW 5 Series E39 (1996-03)

Ford Mondeo (1995-01)

Holden Vectra (1997-03)

Peugeot 406 (1996-04)


Worst performers

Nissan Bluebird (1982-86)

Mitsubishi Starion (1982-87)

Holden Camira (1982-89)

Daewoo Espero (1995-97)

Toyota Corona (1982-88)


Large cars

Best performers

Ford Falcon AU (1998-02)

Ford Falcon BA/BF (2002-05)

Holden Commodore VT/VX (1997-02)

Holden Commodore VY/VZ (2002-05)

Toyota Camry (2002-05)


Worst performers

Mazda 929/Luce (1982-90)

Holden Commodore VN/VP (1989-93)

Toyota Lexcen (1989-93)

Holden Commodore VB-VL (1982-88)

Mitsubishi Magna TM/TN/TP/ Sigma/V3000 (1985-90, below)


People movers

Best performers

Kia Carnival (1999-05)

Mazda MPV (1994-99)


Worst performers

Toyota Tarago (1983-89)

Mitsubishi Starwagon/L300 (1983-86)


Light cars

Best performers

Daewoo Cielo (1995-97)

Daihatsu Sirion (1998-04)

Holden Barina XC (2001-05)


Worst performers

Daewoo Kalos (2003-04)

Hyundai Getz (2002-05)

Suzuki Alto (1985-00)


Compact 4-wheel drives

Best performers

Honda CR-V (1997-01)

Subaru Forester (2002-05)


Worst performers

Holden Drover/Suzuki Sierra (1982-99)

Daihatsu Rocky/Rugger (1985-98)


Large 4-wheel drives

Best performers

Ford Explorer (2001-05)

Nissan Patrol/Safari (1998/04)


Worst performers

Nissan Patrol (1982-87)

Toyota Landcruiser (1982-89)


Stephen Ottley
Contributing Journalist
Steve has been obsessed with all things automotive for as long as he can remember. Literally, his earliest memory is of a car. Having amassed an enviable Hot Wheels and Matchbox collection as a kid he moved into the world of real cars with an Alfa Romeo Alfasud. Despite that questionable history he carved a successful career for himself, firstly covering motorsport for Auto Action magazine before eventually moving into the automotive publishing world with CarsGuide in 2008. Since then he's worked for every major outlet, having work published in The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age,, Street Machine, V8X and F1 Racing. These days he still loves cars as much as he did as a kid and has an Alfa Romeo Alfasud in the garage (but not the same one as before... that's a long story).
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