Like its sister, a used car safety rating is divided into three parts, vehicle weight, passive safety features and active safety features.
A UCSR will tell you that a car's weight is a determining factor in how the car crashes. While large heavy cars may not test well in other areas of the used car safety rating, they will for the most part fair better in the crash department than a smaller, lighter car. With more car out in front and behind the driver and passengers, there is less chance that the full force of a crash will affect the occupants as badly. A smaller, compact car offers far less protection.
Passive safety features listed on the UCSR are those that help vehicle occupants survive a crash. The most common passive safety feature is seat belts. Only mandatory since 1967, seat belts are one of the most important safety features a car has to offer. Since becoming a standard feature, seat belts have come a long way in design. Original seat belts were nothing more than mesh straps bolted to the interior of the car. These days they are designed to automatically tension when a crash occurs.
How a car is constructed is also an important passive safety feature. If your car was manufactured prior to 1996, then it is important to note that there were no side impact specifications in place. With rising gas prices, car manufacturers were trying to make vehicles lighter thus, less metal was used. Side impact crashes are still among the most deadly.
Listed on a used car safety rating as active safety features, tires, brakes, ABS (anti-lock brakes) and traction control are all in place to help the driver avoid a crash.
Tires are of the utmost importance. Better tires means better handling which in turn means the vehicle will respond better. Softer 'sport' tires grip the road better than standard grade tires, thus improving traction and handling.
Properly functioning brakes are also a key to safety. Brakes should respond quickly when applied. Maintaining your brake system is highly important.
ABS or anti-lock brakes can help prevent you from sliding in the winter and keep you out of a skid if you need to apply the brakes quickly. ABS is an electronic system that does not allow the brake pads or shoes to lock against the drum or rotor. This feature gives the driver much more control.
Traction control systems are still rare and expensive but very useful nonetheless. Traction control systems utilize technology to give the car stability. Most systems of this type monitor conditions and make adjustments as needed with nothing from the driver being required.
Besides all the standard data a used car safety rating provides, it is also useful in determining any problems that have arose with the car since it was manufactured. A UCSR will normally provide you with information on recalls and other safety concerns. This all goes to help mark the reliability of a used automobile.