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They don’t build ’em like they used to… A Guide to Old Car Safety

Car Collision Testing

They don’t build ’em like they used to. That’s how old cars are generally described. Tough as nails, made of steel. New cars just fall apart in a crash, so the saying goes.

But contrary to perception, there is a very good reason new cars deform more readily in a crash: it can save your life.

Consider this: when an old car has a front end crash, the structure won’t be crushed as much as a modern car’s would, which means the occupants experience a more sudden rate of deceleration, and potentially more life threatening injuries.

The front end of a modern car is designed to collapse in a crash, to help absorb some of the impact. This slows the rate of deceleration on the occupants inside the car and, hopefully, helps prevent life threatening injuries.

The dramatic improvement in the crash safety of cars over the past 30 years or more is just one of the reasons young novice drivers are over-represented in fatal crashes. Our most inexperienced drivers are often in the oldest and less safe cars on the road, which lack the latest safety aids such as seatbelt pre-tensioners, airbags, anti-lock brakes and stability control.

Crash statistics show that you are up to 10 times more likely to die if you are in a 1970s car than a modern vehicle.

Of course, not everyone can afford a new car with the latest safety features. But there are steps you
can take to make your older car as safe as possible
. A lot of the following will sound like common sense, but it’s surprising how many of the basics are forgotten or overlooked.

  • Tyres are more important than most people give them credit for. We tend to buy tyres on price but given that they are the only point of contact between you and the road they deserve more attention. When replacing tyres, try to get the best you can afford, and avoid retreads if at all possible. Don’t drive on tyres with an illegal tread depth, not just because your car could be defected by police, but because you could crash and kill or injure yourself or someone else. Wet weather grip is severely diminished when tyres are going bald because the tread can’t “pump” the water between tyre and the road. Regularly check that your tyres are correctly inflated.
  • Good maintenance is also key, and you want to ensure the brake pad material is no more than half worn. If so, prepare to replace them, as the second half of the pad wears faster than the first half.
  • If the car bounces over potholes or takes a while to recover after driving over speed humps, chances are the shock absorbers need replacing. Worn shock absorbers can cause wheel bounce (which means the tyre can lose contact with the road) and increase emergency braking distances.
  • In old cars in particular, check the seatbelts are not frayed or faded, as they may tear in a severe impact.
  • Also get a mechanic to check under the car for structural rust, which can make the car less safe in a crash.
  • Perhaps most important of all is to adjust your driving style so that you reduce the risk of crashing in the first place. Allow for greater distances between you and the car in front, and take corners more slowly than you would in a modern car.

Ideally, you don’t want to crash in an old car because there is less to protect you. There is a hard plastic horn pad in the middle of the steering wheel where an airbag ought to be. And solid roof pillars where side airbags ought to be.

It’s often said in jest but, really, you should drive as if there is a steel spike in the steering wheel. That ought to help you concentrate.

About NRMA Insurance

NRMA Insurance is a provider of insurance products, including car insurance and home insurance in NSW, ACT & TAS.

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