Case Study: Car Shopping for a Parent

 In Auto Professor's Safest, Family Cars, Vehicle Safety

Until recently, Katie’s mother drove a 2004 Toyota Avalon. The Auto Grade for the 2004 Avalon is a C- (well below average). And its grade for older drivers was even worse:

  • The personalized grade for a woman over 50 is an even worse D+.
  • While Katie’s mother was the primary driver, her father would drive the Avalon on occasion, too. The Auto Grade for a man over 50 was also a dismal D+.

Despite Katie’s gentle prodding to upgrade to a safer vehicle, her mother was determined to hang on to the Avalon until retirement. The other drivers in the parking lot where she works are less than conscientious. Her mother didn’t want to subject a shiny new vehicle to the barrage of door dings and other dents and scratches that were certain to occur.

Then Katie’s mother suffered a retinal detachment in her left eye. Although it was surgically repaired and the doctor cleared her to go back to normal activities, including driving, her vision was slow in returning. Katie was even more uncomfortable with the thought of her mother returning to the road in the 2004 Avalon. Its track record for protecting drivers, especially older drivers, in crashes was poor. The car was also old enough that it had very little in the way of safety technologies to help prevent crashes from happening in the first place.

The 2004 Toyota Avalon had a poor track record for protecting drivers in crashes, and it was old enough that there was very little in the way of safety technologies to help prevent crashes from happening in the first place.

Key Decision Points
Katie’s mom agreed that as an older driver having a little more protection would be a good idea, and they started considering and comparing cars. The key factors were:

Safety: Safety was the primary concern, so the new car needed to offer good protection and come equipped with technologies to help avert crashes. The key technologies that interested her were forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking, blind spot warning, and lane keeping assistance.

Size: Katie’s mom isn’t a very big person, and she wasn’t interested in a big vehicle that she could “get lost in” or felt like she couldn’t control.

Visibility: The new car needed to have good visibility, particularly out the sides and rear.

They compiled a short list of candidate vehicles, and started researching. Consumer Reports has a great tool that tracks what safety tech is available on different make-models, which they used to verify that the options she was interested in were available on the cars she was considering. Then they sat down with The Auto Professor to prioritize dealership visits:


They used the Auto Grades to prioritize dealership visits

While she liked the idea of a sedan (it’s what she had always driven), the B Auto Grade for the Camry among older drivers was less impressive than the grades for the SUVs. She decided to start at the BMW dealership, and head to Acura and Toyota from there.

Grade A-

2018 BMW X3

Turns out the Acura RDX and Toyota RAV4 were ok, but Katie’s mom fell in love with a new BMW X3. It had an A- Auto Grade. Along with a good grade, it also was available loaded with all the safety tech she wanted. And it included other protective options she wasn’t aware of. The X3 was also the perfect size. It’s not so big that she felt she couldn’t handle it, but big enough to give her good visibility on the road.

Katie’s mother loves her new car. Her family loves feeling that she is more secure and protected on the road. Now Katie’s biggest concern is wondering when she’ll get to borrow the X3 for herself!

Working together to create a world where everyone walks away from a crash.