5-Star Safety Ratings Frequently Asked Questions 

1. What is the 5-Star Safety Ratings Program?

2. How long has the 5-Star Program been around?

3. Where can I find 5-Star Safety Ratings?

4. Do other organizations crash rate vehicles?

5. Why has the 5-Star Safety Ratings Program changed?

6. What are the changes in the new Safety Ratings?

7. Are crash avoidance technologies part of the enhanced 5-Star Program?

8. When were the changes in the new Safety Ratings implemented?

9. How have ratings changes affected the Monroney label?

10. How does NHTSA choose vehicles to rate?

11. Do the changes in the new Safety Ratings mean vehicles that previously received 4- or 5-star ratings may get lower ratings even if no changes have been made to the vehicle?

12. Has NHTSA revised the ratings for older vehicles?

13. How does NHTSA perform the frontal crash test?

14. How does NHTSA perform the side barrier crash test?

15. How does NHTSA perform the new side pole crash test and how are vehicles rated?

16. What other side ratings does NHTSA assign to vehicles?

17. Why doesn’t NHTSA do rear impact crash ratings?

18. How does NHTSA categorize vehicles?

19. Can I compare vehicles from different classes?

20. What does it mean if the symbol () appears on a vehicle’s ratings label?

 

5-Star Safety Ratings Overview

 1. What is the 5-Star Safety Ratings Program?
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s New Car Assessment Program (NCAP) created the 5-Star Safety Ratings Program to provide consumers with information about the crash protection and rollover safety of new vehicles beyond what is required by Federal law. One star is the lowest rating; five stars is the highest. More stars equal safer cars.

 2. How long has the 5-Star Program been around?
The 5-Star Safety Ratings Program was initiated in 1978 to measure the level of increased safety for vehicle occupants in frontal crashes. Side crash rating results were added with 1997 model year vehicles and rollover assessments with 2001 models. This is a program that provides safety ratings to consumers so they can compare vehicles when shopping for a new car. The program also encourages manufacturers to voluntarily design safer vehicles.

 3. Where can I find 5-Star Safety Ratings?
5-Star Safety Ratings can be found on SaferCar.gov and are posted on the Monroney labels (window stickers) that are required to be displayed on all new vehicles.

 4. Do other organizations crash rate vehicles?
Yes, other organizations test crash vehicles, but NHTSA is the only organization that rates rollover resistance, in addition to frontal and side crashworthiness.

5-Star Safety Ratings Changes: 2011 Models and Beyond

 5. Why has the 5-Star Safety Ratings Program changed?
As the 5-Star Safety Ratings of vehicles improved, the agency looked for new ways to encourage the continuous advancement of vehicle safety. Also, the agency wanted to provide more comprehensive information about vehicles to consumers so they can make more educated purchasing decisions. The additional testing and data reflected in the new ratings better discriminate between the relative safety of vehicle models.

 6. What are the changes in the new Safety Ratings?
New aspects of the ratings system include side pole testing, using different sized crash-test dummies, collecting more crash data, offering a single Overall Vehicle Score per vehicle, and highlighting new crash avoidance technologies.

 7. Are crash avoidance technologies part of the enhanced 5-Star Program?
While not part of the 5-Star Ratings Program, NHTSA identifies vehicles equipped with advanced technology features like Electronic Stability Control (ESC), Lane Departure Warning (LDW), and Forward Collision Warning (FCW) to help consumers buy a safer car.

ESC applies braking to individual wheels during sudden turns so the driver will not lose control of the vehicle. ESC ensures that the vehicle travels in the direction intended by the driver. LDW monitors lane markings and alerts the driver if a vehicle appears to be inadvertently drifting into an adjoining lane. FCW recognizes when a vehicle gets too close to another vehicle, and signals the driver to apply the brakes to avoid a collision. Each vehicle equipped with these advanced technologies must meet certain performance requirements for that technology to be promoted by NHTSA.

 8. When were the changes in the new Safety Ratings implemented?
The changes were implemented beginning with 2011 model year vehicles.

 9. How have ratings changes affected the Monroney label?
The Monroney label has not changed, but the new 5-Star Safety Ratings information displayed on the label began with MY 2012 vehicles.

 10. How does NHTSA choose vehicles to rate?
Each year, NHTSA tests a sample of new vehicles predicted to have high sales volume or vehicles that have been structurally redesigned. Tested vehicles are purchased from dealerships across the country; the vehicles are not supplied directly to NHTSA by the manufacturer, a common misperception.

Though NHTSA is unable to rate every car, all vehicles sold in the U.S. must meet Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards.

 11. Do the changes in the new Safety Ratings mean vehicles that previously received 4- or 5-star ratings may get lower ratings even if no changes have been made to the vehicle?
Yes, some vehicle star ratings that were rated higher under the older Safety Ratings system may be lower under the new 5-Star Safety Ratings system. However, it does not mean that your current 4- or 5-star vehicle is unsafe. Due to more vigorous testing, a vehicle that once received 5 stars under the old system, may receive a lower score under the new system, even if no changes have been made to the model.

 12. Has NHTSA revised the ratings for older vehicles?
No, NHTSA has not revised the published safety ratings for any 2010 or prior model year vehicles. However, old ratings will still be available on SaferCar.gov.

The new 5-Star Safety Ratings include, for the first time, an Overall Vehicle Score, and a combination of results from two side-impact crash tests. The intention of the new ratings and tougher crash tests is to encourage manufacturers to build the safest vehicles possible.

5-Star Safety Ratings Test Procedures

 13. How does NHTSA perform the frontal crash test?
Crash test dummies representing an average-sized adult male and a small-sized adult female are placed in the driver and front passenger seats, respectively, and are secured with seat belts. Vehicles are crashed into a fixed barrier at 35 miles per hour (mph), which is equivalent to a head-on collision between two similar vehicles each moving at 35 mph.

Instruments measure the force of impact to each dummy’s head, neck, chest, pelvis, femur (legs), and feet. The frontal crash rating is an evaluation of injury to the head, neck, chest, and femur (legs) for the driver and right front seat passenger. Since the frontal crash test reflects a crash between two similar vehicles, only vehicles from the same weight class, plus or minus 250 pounds, can be compared when looking at frontal crash ratings.

 14. How does NHTSA perform the side barrier crash test?
Crash test dummies representing an average-sized adult male and a small-sized adult female are placed in the driver and rear passenger seats (driver’s side), respectively, and are secured with seat belts. The side crash rating represents an intersection-type collision by having a 3,015-pound barrier moving at 38.5 mph into a standing vehicle. The moving barrier is covered with material that is crushable to replicate the front of a vehicle.

Instruments measure the force of impact to each dummy’s body regions. The side barrier front seat rating is an evaluation of injury to the head, chest, abdomen, and pelvis for the driver and front seat passenger dummy. The side barrier rear seat rating is an evaluation of injury to the head and pelvis for the rear seat passenger (second row occupants). It is possible to compare all vehicles with each other when looking at side barrier ratings since all rated vehicles are impacted by the same-sized barrier.

 15. How does NHTSA perform the new side pole crash test and how are vehicles rated?
A small-sized adult female crash test dummy is placed in the driver’s seat and is secured with a seat belt. The test vehicle, angled at 75 degrees, is then pulled sideways at 20 mph into a 25-cm diameter pole at the driver’s seating location. This test mimics a side impact crash involving a narrow, fixed object like a utility pole or tree.

Instruments measure the force of impact to the dummy’s head, chest, lower spine, abdomen, and pelvis. Unless otherwise noted, the side pole rating is an evaluation of injury to the head and pelvis for both the driver and front seat passenger. It is possible to compare all vehicles to each other when looking at side pole ratings because all rated vehicles impact the same-sized pole.

 16. What other side ratings does NHTSA assign to vehicles?
NHTSA combines the driver front seat rating from the side pole test with the driver front seat rating from the side barrier test for a combined side barrier and pole front seat rating. The probabilities of injury from the front and rear seat occupants in the side barrier test and the front seat occupant in the side pole crash test are then weighted and combined to assign a side crash rating.

The side crash rating is compared to the side crash performance of an average vehicle in the fleet. A lower than average risk of injury is better; occupants in these vehicles will be less likely than average to sustain injury in side impact collisions with other vehicles or stationary objects such as trees and utility poles.

  • 5 Stars = Side crash injury risk for this vehicle is much less than average
  • 4 Stars = Side crash injury risk for this vehicle is less than average to average
  • 3 Stars = Side crash injury risk for this vehicle is average to greater than average
  • 2 Stars = Side crash injury risk for this vehicle is greater than average
  • 1 Star = Side crash injury risk for this vehicle is much greater than average

 17. Why doesn’t NHTSA do rear impact crash ratings?
NHTSA’s 5-Star Ratings Program has a limited budget and must concentrate its ratings on front and side-impact crashes that are responsible for the highest percentage of deaths and serious injuries.

Comparing Vehicles Based on 5-Star Safety Ratings

 18. How does NHTSA categorize vehicles?
NHTSA categorizes vehicles by class and “curb” weight. Curb weight is the weight of a vehicle with standard equipment including the maximum capacity of fuel, oil, coolant, and air conditioning. Passenger cars are further subdivided.

  • Passenger cars mini (PC/Mi) (1,500–1,999 lbs.)
  • Passenger cars light (PC/L) (2,000–2,499 lbs.)
  • Passenger cars compact (PC/C) (2,500–2,999 lbs.)
  • Passenger cars medium (PC/Me) (3,000–3,499 lbs.)
  • Passenger cars heavy (PC/H) (3,500 lbs. and over )
  • Sport utility vehicles (SUV)
  • Pickup trucks (PU) Vans (VAN)

 19. Can I compare vehicles from different classes?
Side crash rating results can be compared across all classes because all vehicles are hit with the same force by the same moving barrier or pole.

Rollover ratings can also be compared across all classes. Frontal crash rating results can only be compared to other vehicles in the same class and whose weight is plus or minus 250 pounds of the vehicle being rated. This is because a frontal crash rating into a fixed barrier represents a crash between two vehicles of the same weight.

 20. What does it mean if the symbol () appears on a vehicle’s ratings label?
This symbol alerts consumers to a safety concern the government has about the vehicle. That concern can include: structural failure or some type of unintended performance of a vehicle component such as a fuel leakage or a door opening. Please note that safety concerns are NOT part of the calculation for an Overall Vehicle Score. A vehicle can have a high star rating, but still have a safety concern. However, if a safety concern is identified, the symbol will appear in the correct crash category and Overall Vehicle Score area.