What Are Car Safety Ratings And How Do You Check Them?

What Are Car Safety Ratings And How Do You Check Them?

Written by Lisa Rennie
Fact-checked by Caitlin Wood
Last Updated August 31, 2021

When buying a car, you’ve probably got a make, model, and colour in mind. But have you considered the safety rating of the car you’re thinking of purchasing? 

While esthetics and accessories play a role in your ultimate choice, nothing should be more important than your safety and that of your passengers. 

Luckily, vehicles come with safety ratings that you can use to determine how safe a particular car is before you buy it. Read on to find out how and why these ratings should be a part of your car shopping endeavour.

What Are Car Safety Ratings?

Car safety ratings are scores given to specific vehicles that determine how safe a vehicle is when involved in a collision or how effective it is in avoiding a collision altogether. These ratings are established by different institutions and are determined based on different crash tests.  

Before you buy a car, it’s a good idea to find out what the safety rating is of the vehicle you are thinking of purchasing. 

Check out the pros and cons of buying a car online vs at a dealership.

Types of Car Safety Ratings in Canada

In Canada, 3 main entities establish car safety ratings, with each using a different rating system to determine vehicle safety. These include the following:

  • National Safety Mark. This car safety rating is set by car manufacturers and must comply with Motor Vehicle Safety Regulations (MVSR) in Canada. A national safety mark on cars serves as an indication of their safety and reliability.
  • National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) Safety Ratings. The NHTSA, a US-based organization, rates vehicle safety based on a 5-star rating program, with 5 stars being the highest rating and 1 being the lowest. 
  • Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) Safety Ratings. Also based out of the US, the IIHS rates a vehicle’s safety performance using colour codes on a scale, with each colour representing a range from “Poor” to “Good”, or from “Basic” to “Superior.”

Why You Should Know Your Car Safety Ratings

Driving on Canadian roadways comes with some level of risk, which can be mitigated with safe driving skills. But the vehicle you drive can also play a role in your likelihood of getting into a car accident, as well as the likelihood of you surviving a crash.

You’re much more likely to survive a car crash when driving a car that’s rated as “Good” compared to a car that’s rated as “Poor”, according to the IIHS. That’s why it’s so important to consider a car’s safety rating before buying it, as this factor could literally save your life and that of your passengers. 

Find out how to buy car insurance.

Which Are The Safest Cars To Drive In Canada?

Every year, vehicles are assessed and rated according to their safety standards. The Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI) of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) evaluates vehicle safety with the titles of “Top Safety Pick” or “Top Safety Pick+”.

These awards are given to vehicles that are deemed to be the best choices for safety based on different size categories each year. Generally speaking, larger, heavier vehicles can provide occupants with more protection compared to smaller, lighter ones. Smaller cars may be eligible for an award, but they may not necessarily be able to protect occupants the way larger and heavier vehicles that don’t qualify for an award can.

For this reason, ratings are based on size and weight categories.

The following is the criteria for Top Safety Pick or Top Safety Pick+ awards for 2020:

TOP SAFETY PICK+:

  • “Good” (G) ratings given for: driver-side small overlap front, passenger-side small overlap front, moderate overlap front, and side, roof strength, and head restraint tests.
  • Advanced or superior ratings given for front accident prevention.
  • Acceptable or good (A or G) headlights are standard.

TOP SAFETY PICK:

  • “Good” (G) ratings given for: driver-side small overlap front, passenger-side small overlap front, moderate overlap front, and side, roof strength, and head restraint tests.
  • Advanced or superior ratings given for front accident prevention.
  • Acceptable or good (A or G) headlights are available.

Based on the Top Safety Pick or Top Safety Pick+ awards for 2020, the following are rated as the top 10 safest cars:

CarCar Type Safety Rating
2021 Honda Civic 4-Door HatchbackSmallTop Safety Pick
2021 Hyundai Elantra 4-Door SedanSmallTop Safety Pick
2021 Mazda 3 4-Door SedanSmallTop Safety Pick+
2021 Nissan Sentra 4-Door SedanSmallTop Safety Pick
2021 Subaru Crosstrek Hybrid 4-Door WagonSmallTop Safety Pick+
2021 Honda Accord 4-Door SedanMidsizeTop Safety Pick+
2021 Hyundai Sonata 4-Door SedanMidsizeTop Safety Pick
2021 Toyota Camry 4-Door SedanMidsizeTop Safety Pick+
2021 Volkswagen Arteon 4-Door HatchbackLargeTop Safety Pick

Where Can You Find A Car’s Safety Ratings?

You can find out a specific vehicle’s safety rating with Transport Canada, which regulates motor vehicle safety in Canada. Car manufacturers must test their vehicles for safety themselves in compliance with guidelines established by the National Safety Mark.

Other companies that you can check with in North America include the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), both of which rate vehicles for safety. 

You can quickly and easily find out a car’s safety rating by going online to any one of these agency’s websites. 

Find out how to save money on your car insurance.

Do All Cars Have A Safety Rating? 

Some vehicles may not undergo a crash test because of low-volume sales or high value. For instance, high-cost luxury and sports cars that are very expensive to manufacture and do not see the volume of sales that lower-end vehicles see may not be independently tested. The cost associated with crash testing such vehicles may not be justified. 

That said, it is required by law that all automobile prototypes be crash-tested prior to being offered to the public. Further, both the NHTSA and the IIHS do not test for safety ratings in situations involving rear-end collisions.

Final Thoughts

If you are in the market to buy a new car, the vehicle safety rating should be one of the first things you should look at. While things like colour, mileage, and accessories are important, safety is arguably even more important. Luckily, finding out the safety rating of a car is quick and easy. 


Rating of 5/5 based on 2 votes.

Lisa has been working as a writer for more than a decade, creating unique content that helps to educate Canadian consumers in the realms of real estate, mortgages, investing and financial health. For years, she held her real estate license in Toronto, Ontario before giving it up to pursue writing within this realm and related niches. Lisa is very serious about smart money management and helping others do the same. She's used a variety of financial tools over the years and is currently growing her money with Wealthsimple, while stashing some capital in a liquid high-interest savings account so that she always has a financial cushion to fall back on. She's also been avidly using her Aeroplan TD credit card to collect as many Aeroplan points as possible to put towards her travels!

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