SOME weeks ago, I mentioned how maintenance of your vehicle would affect safety. After all, bad brakes, misaligned wheels, worn out tyres, shoddy wiring and an oily engine all invite disaster. But there is another factor that affects your safety as well: your choice of car. Granted, we sometimes think a Volvo is the safest car around (and they are), but there are some surprises out there.
The New Car Assessment Programme for Southeast Asian Countries (Asean NCAP) is the benchmark for auto safety in Asean countries. Recently, it released a star rating versus price (on-the-road inclusive of insurance) chart that compares each car’s occupant protection against its affordability. Each car gets a star rating, with 5 stars being the highest. The battery of tests that each car is subjected to is quite demanding. A car with eight airbags might not necessarily even get the highest rating, such is the severity of NCAP testing. The Volvo XC60 (not surprisingly) is a five-star vehicle in its category in Euro NCAP, for instance. But the star rating versus price is very interesting in how you maximise safety. Obviously, a cheap car will definitely not get a five-star rating, right?
Back in the day, if the car had a lap belt and a padded steering wheel, it would be considered a safety conscious car (guess which car had those as standard then? Volvo). And if it was built like a brick outhouse, it would gain more kudos. My dad came home one day from the office after totalling a Toyota Corolla with the family car. He drove it home. In case you want to know, it was a Volvo 144S. The bonnet resembled a one-man tent (early collapsible collision areas?), but he was able to drive it home. Once, my wife spun the family car while driving on a wet bend and drove the car into a large drain. Half the car was hanging in mid-air. We towed it out and drove it home. It was a Volvo 240 Turbo. Lest you think this is a Volvo ad, let me put you straight later. It’s just that vehicle safety is always at the forefront of any potential buyer’s thoughts. But back then, we always equated price with safety. The more expensive the car, the safer it was. Up to a point, it was correct, but nowadays, cheaper cars are equally as safe as more expensive marques.
The cheapest car with a five-star safety rating in Adult Occupant Protection (AOP) is the Proton Iriz — the national B-segment hatchback. The Iriz is equipped with stability control as standard, even in its most basic model, the 1.3M. How times change. When the Proton Saga 1.3S was introduced, remarks on how it was built from “tin Milo” were quite incorrect as well as uncalled for. Of course, it came standard with front seatbelt and padded dash and steering wheel, but no airbags or electronic gizmos. Proton has moved forward a long way since then.
In fact, Proton sells three of the cheapest five-star cars in Malaysia, with the Preve Executive Manual and the Suprima S Executive, and both come with six airbags and stability control. Excellent show by Proton, it must be said. Never would you have mentioned Proton in the same breath as Volvo back in the day. People were even afraid to lean against the side of the Saga. A myth, it was. You could easily lean against any car back then. Well, except the teeny little Suzuki 800, according to a friend who warned me in the nick of time. Safety is now in-built into our cars. Aside from the obvious airbags and seatbelts, there are other features that may help us detect crash damage and avoid buying unsafe cars. For instance, all cars have collapsible zones that bear the brunt of even a small bumper to bumper jolt. It is worth looking underneath a prospective purchase to see if any repairs have been done underneath the front and rear bumpers. Drop-away engine mounts are also part of a safety package, so be wary of any brand new aluminium engine mounts (which would stand out in a dirty engine bay). It is then up to us to maintain these cars in tip-top condition. Even though they come with five-star NCAP ratings, you can easily transform them into a two-star jalopy with intermittent maintenance and ridiculous modifications. So take good care of those five stars and please don’t change the steering wheel for a wooden Nardi. You have been warned.