BUYING A used family car can be a daunting process at the best of times. From spotting the slippery salesman pushing the old bangers he wants to see the back of to understanding what finance deal best meets your needs, it can often feel overwhelming — like tackling a 1,000-piece jigsaw with bits missing.
That’s never more true than when you’re trying to find out what are the safest used family cars. Luckily, Thatcham, a safety organisation that works with car manufacturers and insurers, has put together a definitive list of the 10 safest second-hand family cars costing less than £15,000.
After analysing the results of independent crash tests carried out by Euro NCAP, whose work is also used by the EU, Thatcham has rated the following cars as the safest money can buy.
Of course, this list is not an endorsement by Driving of any individual used vehicle for sale — when buying a used car, you should always look into its history (HPI offers this service) and if possible have an independent mechanic assess it before you hand over the money. The AA and RAC both offer vehicle inspection services, with discounts for members.
The top three
1 Volvo V40 with optional safety pack (2012)
Surprised to see a Volvo at the top of a list of the safest family cars? Thought not. Ever since it pioneered the three-point seatbelt, in 1959, Volvo has been doing its bit to look after the occupants of its cars. The V40 not only delivers the best protection of any family car for front-seat occupants, but also offers the best safety for pedestrians.
All versions include autonomous emergency braking (AEB): at speeds of up to 20mph, if the car detects an imminent crash, it will automatically apply the brakes. Thatcham says AEB has been shown to prevent 38% of rear-end crashes.
The Volvo V40 tested here had the optional Safety Pack; make sure the car you buy does too. It features:
- Road Sign Recognition to help drivers keep below the speed limit
- Adaptive Cruise Control, which automatically maintains a safe distance from the car in front
- Advanced Lane Support, which can steer the car back into its lane if it senses the vehicle is wandering
- Blind Spot Warning, which alerts the driver to vehicles approaching from behind
- Driver Monitoring, which spots signs of fatigue
- Autonomous Emergency Braking, an advanced version that works at up to 50mph
- Active High Beam, which switches headlights from main beam to dipped beam when it senses other vehicles
2 Volkswagen Golf (2012)
The Volkswagen Golf is a bit like the head boy at school: good at everything and popular with everyone. It’s even good at protecting people in the event of an accident: it was awarded a maximum five-star Euro NCAP rating.
Some of its scores — notably for pedestrian collisions — weren’t as good as the Volvo V40’s, but the Golf’s AEB system, standard on all versions, works at up to 50mph. Thatcham says drivers of the VW have 45% fewer personal injury claims than average.
3 Nissan Qasqahi (2014)
Wherever you look on Britain’s roads, there’s a Nissan Qashqai passing by. This is one of the country’s top 10 sellers, and it performs well in Euro NCAP crash tests. Better still, models fitted with a Smart Vision Pack come with a host of technology aimed at preventing accidents from happening in the first place.
The pack includes automatic emergency braking, which works at up to 50mph, a lane support system that warns drivers when they’re wandering over the lane markings, a speed limit reminder based on road sign recognition and High Beam Assist, which adjusts headlights to stop oncoming drivers being dazzled.
The rest of the best
4 Peugeot 308 (2013)
5 Vauxhall Astra (2015)
Poor old Vauxhall. Its Astra is forever overlooked in favour of more fashionable competitors, but the British-made hatchback is a safe buy, according to Thatcham. Check out the Euro NCAP test results here and read our review of the latest generation here.
6 Mazda 3 (2013)
7 Mercedes A-class (2012)
8 Honda Civic (2012)
9 Mazda CX-5 (2012)
10 Fiat 500L (2014)