5 Top Safety Features to Check Before You Buy a Car

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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.

4. Child safety seats

Of course you have to buy those yourself, but make sure that the LATCH (lower anchors and tethers for children) feature suits your needs. Again, all cars’ systems aren’t the same.

Why that’s important, according to Consumer Reports: “Often, incompatibilities between the car’s seat and the child seat make a good, tight fit difficult and sometimes impossible to achieve.

”

Where to get more information: Consumer Reports provides a detailed description of what is required of car seats to suit each stage of your child’s development. It’s also important to try your child safety seat in the car to check its fit.

5. Power windows

Kids of all ages have been injured or killed by toggling the window switch and becoming trapped.

Consumer Reports says that “lever-type switches which are flush with the surrounding trim and only raise the window when pulled up are a safer design.”

Where to get more information: The car manufacturers’ websites and, of course, trying the switches.

Disclosure: The information you read here is always objective. However, we sometimes receive compensation when you click links within our stories.

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