Dear Car Talk:
My dad is well into his 80s and is looking to get a new car to replace his VW diesel that was part of the VW diesel-emissions settlement. We kids want him to get the safest vehicle out there, with as many automated features as possible (braking, correcting for drifting out of lanes, etc). He is looking at some mid-level Chevrolet product. My bias is for a Honda or Toyota product, like an Accord or Camry. My brother is pushing for a Mercedes-Benz, but they are, of course, very pricey. Dad wants something with good mileage, too. So, what car would you recommend that has the most advanced automated safety features in a mid-level sedan? And as an aside, is there a color that is considered safer for its visibility? A number of years back, my parents had a bright-yellow car, but my mom thought it was too gaudy. Thanks for helping to keep them safe! — Jennifer
I’m seeing Dad in a neon green M1 Abrams tank, Jennifer. How’s that sound? And I think your brother’s just pushing for the Benz because he thinks he’s going to inherit it.
Actually, you’re absolutely right to want Dad to have every possible current safety feature. We’d recommend forward-collision warning and automatic emergency braking for everybody, not just those in their 80s whose reflexes have slowed down.
Those systems work by sensing slowing or stopped traffic in front of you. If the computer determines that you haven’t started to slow down or steer away soon enough, it concludes that you’re texting your bookie or otherwise not paying attention, and it sounds a warning. If you still don’t respond, it applies the brakes for you. These systems are preventing a lot of body repair — both automotive and human.
Blind-spot monitoring is another must-have. As the name implies, a light on the side-view mirror or A-pillar tells you when there’s traffic coming up beside you so you don’t change lanes into a FedEx truck you didn’t notice. That’s great for everybody, but especially for older folks who don’t have that neck-twisting mobility they used to have to spin around and look over their shoulder while driving at 65 mph.
So one place to start is at the website of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Here’s a list of its Top Safety Picks: www.iihs.org/iihs/ratings/TSP-List. You want a car that gets a “Top Safety Pick+” rating. That means it rates well not only for crash protection, but also for crash prevention.
On that list, you’ll find the 2017 Camry, the 2017 Accord, the 2017 Chevy Volt and a bunch of other good options. So use the IIHS TSP+ label to create your shopping list.
And then — and this is just as important — help Dad find something he’s comfortable driving. If he’s comfortable and feels he can see well out of the car, maneuver it easily and control all of the basic functions intuitively, he’ll be safer.
You may be biased toward a Honda or Toyota, but Dad may feel most comfortable in another Volkswagen, like the one he’d gotten used to; the 2017 VW Jetta is a TSP+. Or he may be unpleasantly surprised to find that newer cars almost all have lousy rear visibility, and he may want to gravitate toward something with especially good visibility, like the 2017 Subaru Forrester, also a TSP+.
But as long as the car he likes has all of the preferred safety equipment (highand low-speed forward collision warning and automatic emergency braking, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert and a good backup camera), and that equipment is rated well by IIHS, then I’d give him some leeway to find the car that feels most right to him.
And make sure the actual car he buys has all that stuff, since a lot of times it’s optional equipment. Don’t let anybody sell you a car on the lot by telling you you don’t need that stuff.
And if he ends up with a pink Chevy, you can let your brother inherit it.
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