5 Top Safety Features to Check Before You Buy a Car

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Check for features designed to limit damage in a crash -- and some that can help prevent the crash to begin with.

It’s easy to become overwhelmed with all of the high-tech gadgetry on new cars – the in-seat entertainment systems! the mini refrigerators! — but don’t forget the safety features.

Seems like a yawn because everything is regulated, right? Actually, no. If you’re buying a used car, some safety features that are now standard may not be present. And, if you’re buying a new car, you may want to factor in some of the emerging technology that goes beyond what’s required.

“We are seeing a rapid shift from passive safety technology to active safety technology in modern cars,” senior analyst Karl Brauer of Kelley Blue Book told CBS MoneyWatch.

Here are five top safety features you should pay special attention to, according to Consumer Reports:

1. Electronic stability control (ESC)

This is the feature that corrects the vehicle’s steering by selectively applying brakes or cutting power if the car goes into a skid.

Why it’s important, according to Consumer Reports:

A number of studies of ESC have been completed and all point to a substantial reduction in accidents and deaths. The [Insurance Institute for Highway Safety] has estimated that if all cars had ESC, it would save 10,000 lives per year.

Where to get information: Carmakers call their ESC systems by different names, so your best bet is to ask the dealer and read the owner’s manual.

2. Safety-belt features

Certainly seat belts have been standard on cars for decades, but all belts are not created the same way. You want the three-point lap-and-shoulder belts that provide the most protection, and you also want them to have safety-belt pretensioners and force limiters — basically extra safety protectors. Most of all, check to make sure those belts are in the front, second and, if applicable, third row of the car.

Why they’re important, according to Consumer Reports:

Many vehicles also include safety-belt pretensioners and force limiters, which work with the air bags to protect you in a crash. … That helps prevent chest and internal injuries caused by the belt itself.

Where to get more information: Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

3. Head restraints

Like seat belts, head restraints are standard, and locking head restraints have been standard since 2009. Make sure the ones in the car you buy can be adjusted for height so that the head is cushioned above the top of the spine.

Why that’s important, according to Consumer Reports: “A car’s head restraints are vital for guarding against the whiplash neck injuries that often accompany a rear-end collision.”

Where to get more information:  Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

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