Car safety features
While government regulations ensure that vehicles in Canada have
basic safety features, Ms. McIntosh suggests that car-shopping drivers
also look for these safety features:
Anti-lock brakes. “When you’re in a panic
situation and hit your brakes hard, anti-lock brakes will pulsate the
brakes and allow you to steer while you’re braking,” she explains.
Electronic Stability Control (ESC). ESC is a
crash-avoidance system that works with your car’s anti-lock brakes.
“Basically, ESC realizes when you car is sliding — after hitting an ice
patch, for example — and brings your car back in line,” says Ms.
McIntosh. “It doesn’t perform miracles, but it does help you regain
control and avoid obstacles.”
Expert tip: “ESC will be mandatory starting with the 2012 model year,” she says. Transport Canada will require all passenger cars, multi-purpose vehicles, trucks and some buses that
are manufactured on or after September 1, 2011 to have an ESC system.
Active head restraints. To help reduce the risk of whiplash,
more and more cars are coming out with this feature for front-seat passengers.
After a rear-end collision, active head restraints sense that your body
is pushed forward and, before it snaps back, automatically close the gap
between your head and the headrest to reduce the force on your head, neck
Size and weight. “Generally, heavier cars will
provide a more protective field around you; however, smaller cars are
more maneuverable,” says Ms. McIntosh. “If you’re buying a larger,
heavier car only because it offers more protection, also consider
upgrading your driving skills.”
Make the most of safety ratings
“In Canada, we rely on two U.S. organizations to provide safety
ratings: the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) and the
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA),” explains our
expert. “Keep in mind that these ratings will not tell you how well a
vehicle will hold up in a crash; however, they will tell you how well
the vehicle will protect you in a crash.”
In some cases, the same model will receive two different ratings from
these organizations, so check them both and see the ranking of each
vehicle on your list.
Do your part for safety
“Manufacturers have done their part to provide safer vehicles, but
you have to do your part as well,” says Ms. McIntosh. “And that means
you must maintain your car, drive safely and wear your seatbelt.”
Here are her top tips that have nothing
to do with your car, and everything to do with you:
- Follow your owner’s manual. The advice the
manufacturer gives about your car will not only keep it on the road, it
will help keep you safe while you're on it.
- Check your tires. “These are the single most
important safety features of your car,” she explains. “Always buy the
best tires you can afford, including winter-specific ones, check the
tire pressure every month and ensure the tread hasn’t worn off.”
- Listen to your brakes. “While driving, turn off
your stereo, open your windows and listen to your car,” she advises.
“If you hear any squeaking or grinding, or if your brake pedal feels
different, take your car in and have your brakes checked. Brake pads are
usually the first things to wear out and they are relatively
inexpensive to replace.”
- Follow recall advice. “If you do hear about a
recall, think of it as a proactive piece of advice about a potential
problem. So follow the manufacturer’s instructions, get it checked and
have it repaired,” she says. “A recall doesn’t necessarily mean the car
is no longer road-worthy.”
- Get advanced training. “When we’re taught how
to drive, we’re actually learning how to pass the driving test and not
how to drive in the real world,” says Ms. McIntosh. “Check your local
driving schools to see if an advanced course or a course for adult
drivers is available. You’ll gain confidence and safety skills.”