Sizing up new car safety features

July 29, 2011 2:52:49 PM PDT
When you're buying a car, there's a lot to consider. But safety should be right at the top of the list. Carmakers are coming out with a number of interesting, new safety options that are heavily advertised. And sizing up safety features is a key component of the Consumer Reports Auto Test program.

These days testers are evaluating a lot of new safety options. Nissan has developed an expanded notion of a rear-view camera. It offers 360-degree visibility so that you can see all around the vehicle. The system can prove beneficial in tight quarters and especially if you have children around, as a double check of your surroundings.

Another new safety feature that Consumer Reports likes is a blind-spot alert system. It lights up when a vehicle is in your blind spot, so you know not to change lanes.

But some other safety features are not impressing testers. Pre-crash warning systems alert you when you're approaching a vehicle. Testers found that some systems are overly sensitive, going off even in normal and safe driving conditions.

Consumer Reports says that automatic braking systems such as Volvo's City Safety are far better. It can stop your vehicle if you get too close to something in front of you.

"Lane departure" is another new feature; it's designed to signal if you've drifted out of your lane. But testers found that it also can be too sensitive. The feature gave too many warnings on secondary roads, where you cross and approach the center line more often.

There are two safety features that Consumer Reports considers a must. They're electronic stability control and antilock brakes. Each feature will be standard on every 2012 vehicle. But when you're shopping for a used car, Consumer Reports says be sure to look for one that has both of those features.

Complete Ratings and recommendations on all kinds of products, including appliances, cars & trucks, and electronic gear, are available on Consumer Reports' website. Subscribe to