Guide to purchasing a car: Safety features

Thinking about buying a car? Make sure to check what safety features it has before you spend any money.

There's more to a great car than what it looks like or how much it costs. You also need to consider how safe it is. How well will it protect you in a crash? 

Safety features to look for in a car


Air bags are designed to inflate quickly to protect people inside the car during a crash.

Most cars that are less than 20 years old come with front air bags, but safer cars also have side and curtain air bags which protect your head and upper body.

The easiest way to see what air bags your car has is to look for the word 'air bag' or the letters 'SRS' (Supplemental Restraint System). 

Check for these in the:

  • middle of the steering wheel
  • dashboard in front of the front passenger seat
  • inside of the car's pillars (the supports that hold the window and roof in place)
  • side of the front seat backrests.
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Crumple zones

Crumple zones are areas at the front and back of a vehicle that are designed to absorb the energy of a crash by crumpling. So the force of the crash is taken by the car, not you.

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Side impact beams

These are reinforced beams built into the side of the car. They help protect you from a side-on crash.

Anti-lock braking

ABS stands for Anti-lock Braking System. When a car brakes, the ABS system stops each wheel from locking up and skidding. 

ABS helps you to keep steering even if you have to brake hard. This allows you to steer around something rather than crashing into it.

Traction control

This helps stop the car's wheels from slipping when the car is accelerating in slippery road conditions.

Electronic stability control

ESC stands for Electronic Stability Control. It can help you keep in control if you have to swerve suddenly, or when you're driving on slippery roads.

When a vehicle starts to lose control, the ESC system automatically applies the brake to one or more wheels. This keeps the vehicle going where you want it to. 

Car safety ratings

In New Zealand most cars are rated for safety out of five stars. The safest cars have five stars. 

To check if the car you're looking to buy has a good safety rating go to and enter in the licence plate number.

If you don't have the licence plate number search for the car's make, model and year.

You can also find out how good the car is for the environment.

Other things to check before you buy

  • Personal Property Securities Register: Check this register to make sure there's no money owing on the vehicle from previous owners. 
  • Warrant of Fitness (WoF): The WoF should be one month old or less when buying or selling a vehicle.
  • Road user charges (RUC): If the vehicle is affected by road user charges (fees), make sure it has a current RUC licence.
  • Vehicle licence label: Make sure it has a current vehicle licence label.
  • Make sure it's not stolen: Go to the New Zealand Police website to check the vehicle's not listed as stolen. 

What's next?

Guide to purchasing a car: Ownership & insurance

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