Car Buyers' Guide: Unlocking crash test rating mysteries

By Jack Biddle

This week Driven unlocks the mysteries of crash test ratings

Holden's VF Commodore during ANCAP crash testing. Photo / Supplied
Holden's VF Commodore during ANCAP crash testing. Photo / Supplied

The Australasian New Car Assessment Programme provides a consumer rating but is not part of New Zealand regulations. The question After reading the article on the Chery J1 in Driven I wonder how companies are able to import new vehicles into NZ that have only three star Australasian New Car Assessment Programme (Ancap) ratings, such as the Foton ute and the Chery J1. I would have thought nothing less than a four or five-star rating could be legally allowed to be sold here. It's a worry when my '99 VW Passat would appear to be a safer car than a new Chinese-made vehicle.

- Peter

The answer
Interestingly, there are few controls on the importation of vehicles into New Zealand. Controls under the Land Transport Rules apply only to whether vehicles may be used on public roads. You may legally import any type of vehicle if it is for public display or for use on private roads or off-road.

A vehicle may also be broken up for parts after it arrives or may be re-exported.

Vehicles intended for use on public roads must meet NZ Land Transport Rules and must be built to an approved frontal impact standard which offers occupant protection to a required level including a minimum number of frontal airbags. Vehicles must also comply with lighting, braking and seatbelt safety rules.

Crash test rating systems are not part of any official New Zealand regulations. They are a consumer rating only. In New Zealand, the one mostly referred to is Ancap.

These programmes are a simulated assessment of the relative occupant protection a vehicle might provide in a crash. Ancap's crash test programme is supported by several organisations including the New Zealand Government and Australian and New Zealand automobile clubs.

David Crawford, chief executive of the Motor Industry Association (MIA), says the equivalent minimum safety standards as prescribed in the New Zealand rules are less than a three-star Ancap rating. The MIA has also advocated for mandatory adoption of Electronic Stability Control for new and used vehicles.

While Ancap crash test results can be used to compare the protection offered to occupants in the event of severe frontal and side crashes, only those vehicles of similar mass can be correctly compared. As a general rule, a heavier vehicle will provide better protection in a collision with a smaller and lighter vehicle so comparisons should be restricted to cars of a similar class.

Safety, like fuel efficiency and tail pipe emissions, is a moving target. Some manufacturers become leaders and set the standards. Then there are those who play catch-up and cheaper retail pricing becomes their main point of difference.

Sales figures show most new cars entering New Zealand far exceed safety regulations. Raising the bar would have a much greater impact on the used import market with more than 80,000 passenger cars landed and registered last year alone.

When the number of older used imports almost matches the new passenger vehicles coming in, the rules can become very grey.

- NZ Herald

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