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What are the safest used cars? New study reveals the best buys


A new Monash University study on used car safety ratings aims to help make the first car buying decision that little bit easier 

Buying a second-hand car is often a good way to save money on new wheels – but which cars are the safest out there and most likely to protect you in a crash?

Compared to brand-new cars, used cars often have more dated safety features – but there are some that are much safer than others, giving peace of mind to second-hand car buyers, and parents of first drivers alike.

But what sort of cars are available that are both affordable and safe to drive?

Skip ahead to see the safest used cars in each segment:

2014 Mercedes-Benz E-Class pair on mountain
The Monash University study has found which second-hand cars are the safest

Monash University’s Accident Research Centre provides a star rating for each second-hand car, however we have chosen the ‘safer pick’ option and five star cars as the ones to recommend.

The ‘Safer pick’ has been calculated by comparing each car’s driver protection score with how likely that car is to inflict risk on other road users, as well as likelihood of being involved in a crash based on crash avoidance features. 

The safest used SUVs

The SUV market is increasing in size by the day and is incredibly popular with Australian buyers. 

2013 Audi Q5 driving shot front 3/4
The Audi Q5 was a big winner in the area of safety for the SUV segment

The safest picks for the SUV segment were the Audi Q5 (2009-2016) and the Nissan Pathfinder (2013-2020). 

While not technically an official ‘safer pick’, other five star rated SUVs included the BWW X1 (2010-2015), Jeep Compass (2007-2017), Ford Kuga (2013-2016), Hyundai Santa Fe (2012-2018), the Mitsubishi Outlander (2006-2012), Subaru Forester (2012-2018) and the Toyota Kluger (2013-2019). 

Which second-hand SUVs haven’t fared so well on the safety front?

2006 Toyota RAV4 driving shot
Older RAV4s don’t fare so well for safety

The Nissan X-Trail (2001-2007), Toyota Land Cruiser (1998-2007) and earlier Toyota RAV4s (2001-2005) are not recommended in the study. 

The safest utes

Utes have always been popular with Aussie buyers, however not all are the same when it comes to safety. 

The highest rated second-hand utes include the Ford Ranger/ Mazda BT-50 (2011-2020), the Mitsubishi Triton (2015-2020) and the Volkswagen Amarok (2011-2020). 

2012 Ford Ranger rear 3/4 static desert
The Ford Ranger is one of the best picks if you’re after a safe ute

The poorest performing utes in terms of safety include the Toyota Hilux (2005-2015), the Holden Colorado/ Isuzu D-Max (2008-2011) and the Holden Rodeo (2008-2008). 

Early Holden Commodore utes also fared poorly, with VU, VY and VZ models all receiving a one-star safety score. 

The safest used small cars

Monash’s safer picks for the small car category include the Honda Civic (2016-2020), the Audi A3 (2013-2020), the Subaru Impreza (2016-2020) and the Volkswagen Golf (2013-2020). 

2012 Audi A3 red static
The Audi A3 was joined by the Volkswagen Golf as a ‘safer pick’ in the study

But what small cars should you try and avoid in your used car search?

The Hyundai Elantra (2011-2015), Toyota Corolla (2007-2013), Mitsubishi Mirage (1996-2003) and the Nissan Tiida (2006-2013) are ones you should skip on if safety is a high priority for you or your loved ones. 

The safest used medium-sized cars

The safest picks for the medium car class include the Audi A4 (2008-2015) and Audi A5 (2007-2016), the Subaru Liberty and Outback (2009-2014) and the Toyota Camry (2017-2020). 

2011 Subaru Outback front 3/4 static
If you pick up an older Subaru Outback, there is a good chance it’ll be safe

But which cars didn’t do so well?

The BMW 3 Series (2012-2019), Mazda 6 (2002-2007) and Honda Accord (2003-2007) didn’t fare so well in the study, each scoring two stars out of five. 

The safest used large cars

The study recommended Mercedes-Benz E-Class (2009-2016) as the safest pick for the second-hand large car segment. 

2014 Mercedes-Benz E-Class cabriolet rear 3/4
It may be a ritzy choice, but the Mercedes-Benz E-Class is a safe bet

The Mitsubishi Magna (1996-2005), meanwhile, received a one-star rating, along with older Holden Statesman models (1999-2003) and the Ford AU Falcon (1998-2002). 

These might be backbone models of the Australian car industry, but they’re simply not the safest vehicles to be driving around in. 

1999 Honda Odyssey front 3/4
Try to avoid older people movers such as the Honda Odyssey

The safest people movers and minivans

The study doesn’t recommend a particular second-hand people mover, however the Kia Carnival (2014-2020) and the Toyota Tarago/Previa/Estima (2006-2019) ranked highly in the report. 

Out of all the people movers, early Honda Odysseys (1995-2000) scored only one star out of five and are not recommended.