Munich. Now is a good time for prospective car buyers to start comparing mileage, paintwork and features; anyone on the lookout for a used car will find plenty to choose from. The often lengthy lists of special features and extras on offer also include advanced driver assistance systems. And sometimes tough choices have to be made: leather upholstery – or emergency braking assistant? The experts at TÜV SÜD provide tips on the most important safety features for new-to-you pre-owned cars.
A swish convertible for the summer, a sensible compact car as a second vehicle, or a gift for a sixth former with great exam grades – sometimes a used car is the only solution. Smaller vehicles are often bought with the idea that safety features are not a priority as “the car won’t be driven that much anyway”. Eberhard Lang from TÜV SÜD comments, “The head of the family usually gets a brand-new model with all the latest features, while the children – either as passengers or drivers of their own vehicle – end up without the protection of state-of-the-art safety systems.” While it’s true that some features on car manufacturers’ lists of extras are little more than bells and whistles, some systems should be prioritised by used-car buyers and are definitely not to be sacrificed in favour of cosmetic items like wide-wall tyres and leather upholstery.
1st place – ABS: Though anti-lock braking systems have been mandatory for a good while, some older bargains may still lack them. “Without ABS, the car can no longer be safely steered when the brakes are fully applied”, warns Lang. As most drivers these days no longer expect to encounter this limitation in a car, things can easily get hair-raising in an emergency. In addition, ABS shortens braking distances by ten to fifteen per cent.
2nd place – ESC: Electronic Stability Control is among the most effective accident prevention systems and is often a life-saver, effectively avoiding around one-quarter of potential traffic accidents – and as many as 40 per cent of fatal accidents. However, only just under 60 per cent of cars had been equipped with ESC by 2010. Special attention should therefore be paid to this safety feature when buying a car. To complicate matters, not all car manufacturers use the term ESC; abbreviations such as DSC (BMW), DSTC (Volvo), MASC, (Mitsubishi), PSM (Porsche), VSA (Honda) or VSC (Toyota) refer to the same technology. Cars with ESC always have ABS as well.
3rd place – Mechanical brake assist: In emergency braking, some drivers do not place enough pressure on the brake pedal. “Without mechanical brake assist, essential braking power is lost and the braking distance is longer”, notes Lang. The mechanical brake assist system recognises from the driver’s braking behaviour that full braking power is required, and delivers the necessary extra braking intensity. This function must not be confused with the emergency braking assistant (see later) – although it can likewise often significantly reduce braking distances and can thus frequently prevent accidents.
4th place – Lane departure warning system: As the name implies, this system warns drivers if they start to drift out of their lane, or even off the road, using a built-in camera to monitor lane markings. The warning delivered by the system is as varied as the names given to it by the various manufacturers (“Lane Assist” and “Lane Departure Warning” are the commonest); steering-wheel vibrations, acoustic and visual signals are all used. The newest systems actively intervene in driving.
5th place – Automatic emergency braking: Automatic emergency braking systems are unfortunately still scarce in used cars, and offered by only a few brands. The system uses camera and radar to monitor traffic continuously and warns the driver of obstacles that require braking. If the driver does not react, the system brakes the car automatically. For TÜV SÜD’s experts, the safety benefits of these systems are on a par with ESC. Purchasers seeking a relatively new used car should therefore keep an eye out for vehicles with this feature.
Bringing up the rear: There are various other systems that impact positively on safety – and some that improve comfort and convenience for the driver, and thus likewise reduce the risk of accidents by making driving a more relaxing procedure. Parking distance control systems and parking systems, from a simple warning beep to automatic parking assistance, vehicle backup cameras and blind spot detection systems are just a few examples. They are useful complements to the major life-savers listed above – but they are by no means replacements for them.