Shopping For Grads: Why Side Impact Airbags Matter When Choosing a Used Vehicle

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Side impact protection was not standard when many used cars were built. Here’s why you should consider it when shopping used.

With college and high school seniors about to graduate, the used car market will soon heat up. Parents and students will be seeking reliable, safe transportation as they head into summer or off to the working world. One important technology that was not common ten years ago is side impact protection, and in particular, side head and torso airbags. Along with vehicle stability control, side impact protection is vitally important for used car shoppers to consider.

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As time passes all vehicles become much safer as our story about the comparison of a 2001 to a 2016 Ford F-150 proved. To understand how important this technology is for a used vehicle, like the ones students and recent graduates might be shopping for, we need to look back to a time when the technology was just starting to become common. The Insurance Institute For Highway Safety (IIHS) says that in 2009 fully one-quarter of all occupant crash deaths were from side impact crashes. In a 2011 report by IIHS, the group found that side impact airbags reduced the chance of death in a side impact crash by 37% in cars and 52% in pickup trucks.  In our top-of-page image, the red paint smudge and dent on the hood of the Ford Ranger is the spot where the test dummy’s head came through its own passenger window and struck the truck’s hood hard during the crash test  – without side impact airbag protection. The second image shows a side airbag deploying in a crash test and how it is able to protect the occupant.

There is more to side impact protection than simply side airbags. However, most vehicles that incorporate side head and torso airbags also incorporate the other important aspects of a safe design, such as a reinforced B-pillar. IIHS makes it easy to know if a vehicle has this technology. Simply check out the IIHS website to search for the rating of any model and year vehicle or Google it using the keywords “Side, IIHS, Model and Year.” IIHS has found that an occupant in a side vehicle crash with a Poor rating on side impact safety is three times more likely to die than one in a vehicle with a Good side impact safety rating.

Images courtesy IIHS