Car Safety Rating Systems and Common Misconceptions

 In Ask the Auto Professor

Common Misconceptions of 5-Star Car Safety Rating Systems

In this video, Alexa and Norma discuss common misperceptions about car safety rating comparisons and what they mean.


Alexa: So, Norma, can you tell me a little bit more about what’s a common misconception towards the grading system, or “the five star safety rating”, if you will?

Norma: Sure. This was why I decided to create the Auto Grades. Because here I have a daughter who is 25 years old and she’s dating a fellow, and he’s driving a Ford Focus. And I said to her, “Michelle, I don’t think that’s a very safe car.” And she said, “But Mom, it’s five star safety rating.” And then it dawned on me that she was an intelligent young woman, and she was taking on face value that five star meant it was as safe a car as any car on the road. And that’s why I got committed to do the Auto Grades because, unlike a restaurant that has five stars, there’s no qualification. Though they might have dollar signs that tell you okay, “This is an expensive restaurant and this is a cheap restaurant.” The rating system for this five star, rating system for cars doesn’t tell you that. And in fact, those five stars apply only to cars in that class and size. So, a smart car that’s four stars – a Chevy Tahoe – gets four stars. Does that make sense that they both get four stars? It only makes sense when you realize that the smart car is against many compact vehicles. And the Chevy Tahoe is against the full size SUVs.

Alexa: Okay.

Norma: So that’s why I thought we need another system that takes away those restrictions, takes away those qualifications. In our system, the smart car gets a D and the Chevy Tahoe gets an A.

Alexa: Interesting, and does your grading system differ whether it’s a new car, a used car, make, model, year – how is that broken down for us?

Norma: Perfect. It is broken down by the year that you pick.

Alexa: Okay.

Norma: So um, we have over 24,000 Auto Grades.

Alexa: Wow, that’s a lot of grades to give out.

Norma: Yeah, that’s a lot of grades to give out. And it’s all on the same scale. So whether it’s a 2016 or 2020, it’s all on the same scale. So you get a very good sense about whether or not that car … how that car compares to the most modern cars. And for the newer cars, we’re estimating it. But I’m a statistician by training and we have pretty good estimates out there.

Alexa: You’re definitely the stats genius, so we know where to go.


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