Safest used cars

Crash tested and scored on accident avoidance tech: these are the safest used cars

James Mills
Sep 3, 2018

For millions of drivers choosing their next car, or indeed their first motor on the road to freedom, there is a simple mantra by which they judge its suitability: safety first.

Protecting the people inside a car is, for most drivers, a make or break consideration when picking between models. Who wants a fancy, custom paint job or an uprated audio system if the car hasn’t got airbags for those sitting in the back or a failsafe braking system that can bring a car to a stop if the driver hasn’t spotted a hazard ahead?

Needless to say, all car makers claim their new cars are safe. And any sales exec looking to earn their commission is unlikey to admit one car is more dangerous than another. For used car buyers, finding out which make and model will protect them and their family is even more of a headache.

Happily, Thatcham has done much of the homework for drivers. The British safety organisation works with car makers and insurers to evaluate cars. In partnership with Co-op Insurance, it has assessed a range of cars for their ability to avoid an accident, using electronic driver aids, and how well they withstand a crash.

These are the cars that proved the safest in the eyes of the experts.

Safest first used cars for less than £5,000

Last year, Thatcham and Co-op judged used supermini cars, or small hatchbacks, on the basis of having a five-star rating from Euro NCAP (the independent crash-safety organisation), CO2 emissions of 120g/km or less, a used price of £5,000 or less, and a low insurance group. These are the safest.

1. Skoda Citigo (2011-present)

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Finance from £87 per month

Top of the tiny tots for safety is the Skoda Citigo. Mechanically identical to the VW Up and Seat Mii, it is the ideal first car for safety-conscious drivers. It was crash-tested by Euro NCAP in 2011, so hasn't unergone the tougher tests that more recent models are put through.

Since its launch, the car has been available with an automatic emergency braking system, called City Safe Drive, which can stop the car at speeds of less than 18mph, helping to avoid crashes in city streets. The technology is only available as an option, so you'll need to specifically check whether it's been fitted to any used model that you're considering, or pay extra to have it fitted when buying new.
Skoda Citigo buying guide

Euro NCAP scores
Adult occupant 89%
Child occupant 80%


2. VW Up (2011-present)

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Remove the Volkswagen badge and you've essentially got exactly the same car as the Skoda Citigo and the Seat Mii below. All three brands are part of the Volkswagen Group, and shared the costs of developing their city cars. That's why the Euro NCAP safety scores - all from 2011 - are identical.

The VW is pushed down into second place because its standard equipment levels aren’t quite as generous as the Skoda. There's more choice of used Volkswagens, though. Like the Skoda, its city emergency braking technology is optional (apart from the electric e-up! which includes the safety feature as standard), so there's no guarantee that it's fitted to any particular specification.
Volkswagen up! buying guide

Euro NCAP scores
Adult occupant 89%
Child occupant 80%


3. Seat Mii (2011-present)

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Because there are comparatively few models on the used car market, finding the right Mii for your money, with the right safety equipment, will be more tricky than the similar Skoda and VW. Older models were available with an optional automatic emergency braking system, known as Safety Assist, but as of this year, it's no longer being offered for new cars.


4. Toyota Yaris (2011-present)

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In production since 2011, the current generation of Yaris has The Yaris is a little larger than the Skoda, VW and Seat, making it a more practical option for those who’ll be ferrying friends or family about.


Kio Rio (2011-2017)

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Finance from £87 per month

With Kia’s attractive seven-year warranty on its new cars, buying a used example can have advantages beyond the compact car’s safety score.


The safest used family cars for less than £10,000

In 2016, Thatcham and Co-op rated family cars across the same criteria as the superminis – with one exception. The price was £15,000; those cars can now be bought for less than £10,000.

1. Volvo V40

The V40 is Volvo’s answer to the VW Golf, and if you find a used example from around 2013 with the option of a Driver Support Pack, it is as safe as cars come for less than £10,000, according to Thatcham’s safety boffins.


2. Volkswagen Golf

The Golf is a great all-round family hatchback, the best, in fact, but when it comes to protecting those inside from an accident, it just misses out to its equivalent model from Sweden’s most famous car maker.

3. Nissan Qashqai

It’s already the most popular car of its kind on Britain’s roads. So it’s good to know hundreds of thousands of drivers have chosen wisely, and opted for a seriously safe SUV.


4. Peugeot 308

Many drivers will have owned Peugeots from years gone by that were as flimsy as a pair of flip flops. Those days are over, as the stylish and safe 308 shows.


5. Vauxhall Astra

The Astra may have fallen out of fashion with Britain’s drivers but it’s still a good car and represents excellent value for money on the used market.


The safest used cars for new parents for less than £15,000

All children are vulnerable in the event of a car crash, but none more so than infants. So for 2018, experts at Thatcham Research and Co-op Insurance not only compared used cars with a maximum five star Euro NCAP rating, but also how well all contenders protected children in both front and side impacts. They also scored points for fitting child seat restraints in the back seats, and automatic emergency braking had to be standard.

1. Mazda CX-5

Widely praised by the critics, the CX-5 proves to be just as good at impressing safety experts. New parents who want the safest used car for less than £15,000 should look no further than this five-seat SUV.


2. Volkswagen Touran

People carriers have fallen out of fashion over the past decade, as drivers switch to SUVs. Yet they’re some of the most practical cars on the road – and, as demonstrated by the VW Touran – the safest too.


3. BMW 2 Series Active Tourer

It’s often overlooked but the 2 Series Active Tourer is a good family car, especially the Gran version with the long wheelbase, larger boot and seven-seat configuration.


4. Nissan Qashqai

Nissan Qashqai Visia

It may not be the best car in its class but it’s one of the safest, and its affordable pricing means this is a good place for new parents to invest their money.


5. Toyota RAV4

Once one of the most popular cars of its type, the RAV4 SUV faces a lot more competition since it was first introduced, in the ‘90s.


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