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 |  Jul 31 2014, 1:15 PM

A Crash Course in IIHS Safety Tests

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New car shoppers should always consider a car’s crash test performance and safety when it comes to making a purchase, but what’s behind those crash ratings?

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety [IIHS] operates independently of auto manufacturers and is funded by the insurance industry to conduct crash evaluations on new vehilces. The folks at the IIHS have quite a few hard-hitting tests that help determine a vehicle’s crash safety. Not only that, but the tests change often in order to improve safety in modern cars.

The IIHS has five different categories for crash tests: front, side, seats, roof strength and collision prevention.

“As we’ve conducted research through the years on how people are injured and killed in real-world crashes we’ve added new tests,” said IIHS senior vice president of communications Russ Rader. “We started the side impact test in 2003, which simulates a crash where the striking vehicle is an SUV or a pickup. Then we started the roof strength test to evaluate how well vehicles protect people in rollover crashes.”

The front, side, seats and roof strength tests are all measured with the same four ratings: Good, Acceptable, Marginal and Poor. Because there are several cars that don’t offer collision prevention, that section has different ratings: Basic, Advanced and Superior.

The IIHS actually features two top ratings: Top Safety Pick, and Top Safety Pick Plus. To achieve a Top Safety Pick, a vehicle must earn Good ratings in the moderate overlap, side, roof strength and head restraint tests, as well as an acceptable or better rating in the small overlap front test.

Those vehicles that have a Top Safety Pick rating can get the Top Safety Pick Plus rating by having a basic, advanced or superior rating for front crash prevention.

Click on to the next page to see how the IIHS determines its ratings.