Most people buy a wagon because they’re looking for a practical family car – something with plenty of passenger and cargo space that doesn’t use too much gas. No matter how much interior room you need, one factor can’t be overlooked: safety. Today’s wagons have many of the same safety features as the sedans they’re based on, and they’re much safer than the old Ford Country Squire that some kids were shuttled around in a few decades ago. However, that doesn’t mean that one wagon is just as safe as the next.
Driving a Wagon Safely
A major advantage of wagons is that they tend to be easier to drive than crossovers and SUVs. With open passenger cabins, outward visibility is usually better in wagons compared with most SUVs, crossovers and sedans. Also, since wagons tend to be shorter than SUVs and crossovers, it’s easier to see what’s behind you. While some models, like the Cadillac CTS Sport Wagon, offer park assist and a rearview camera, the size and stance of most wagons means that getting those systems may not be as critical as it is in other vehicles.
A wagon’s low stance makes it less susceptible to rollovers, which can occur when a vehicle abruptly changes direction at a high speed. The higher a car’s center of gravity, the more likely it is to roll over. As a result, tall crossovers and SUVs, like the Chevrolet Tahoe, tend to have a greater risk of rolling over compared with wagons.
One of the biggest factors to driving a wagon safely can actually come from inside the car. A wagon’s cargo area isn’t separate from its passenger area, so there’s a risk that in a crash or hasty maneuver, cargo in the back could hit a passenger or the driver. If you have a lot of cargo, make sure it’s secure. You also shouldn’t stack cargo so that it limits rear visibility. If you are carrying a dog in the cargo area of a wagon, make sure he or she is secure, too. Put Fido in a kennel or dog carrier, or look for an aftermarket dog barrier that will keep him or her from flying into the passenger area during an accident. Not only will that keep your passengers safe, but it will keep your pet safe, too.
Wagon Crash Test Scores
Driving a wagon safely is the best way to keep you and your family out of harm’s way, but sometimes the unthinkable happens. You need to be confident your wagon will protect you and your passengers in the event of a crash.
Two agencies crash test cars in the U.S.: the federal government’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the non-profit Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). Both organizations crash test vehicles and rate them based on their ability to protect occupants. NHTSA performs front and side crash tests, and rollover risk tests. It also gives vehicles an overall rating for crashworthiness. NHTSA rates vehicles on a scale of one to five stars, with five being the best. The IIHS performs front, side and rear tests, as well as roof strength tests. It gives scores that range from Poor to Good. Cars that earn scores of Good in all tests are named IIHS Top Safety Picks.
Wagons that are IIHS Top Safety Picks include the Acura TSX Sport Wagon, Subaru Outback, Toyota Prius v and Volkswagen Jetta SportWagen.
One of the hardest tasks for wagon buyers can be finding the crash test ratings for the wagons they’re interested in. Since wagons tend to be low-volume sellers, they don’t get crash tested as often as other vehicles. For example, the Volkswagen Jetta SportWagen is an IIHS Top Safety Pick, but NHTSA has only rated the Jetta SportWagen for rollover risk, giving it four stars in that category. The Cadillac CTS Sport Wagon has an excellent overall rating of five stars from NHTSA, but it hasn’t been scored by the IIHS.
If the wagon you’re considering is available as a sedan, check out the sedan’s crash test ratings. While it’s not a perfect solution, most wagons share a lot of components with the sedans they’re based on, so their body structure should be similar enough for you to make an educated assessment of how well the wagon might do in a crash.
Key Wagon Safety Features
Since wagons tend to have limited crash test data, look for wagons that have safety features that will help you avoid accidents. Electronic stability control is required by the federal government on all 2012 and newer vehicles, but if you’re looking at a used wagon, make sure it comes with this feature.
Stability control systems detect skids and automatically respond to them, keeping you in control of the wagon. Traction control is a similar system. In fact, most carmakers package the two together. Also, make sure any wagon you’re considering has anti-lock brakes, which help prevent the wheels from locking up during hard braking.
Safety features like blind spot warning systems, crash detection and mitigation systems and rearview cameras are also available on wagons. For example, the Subaru Outback can be equipped with adaptive cruise control, pre-collision braking, lane departure warning and sway warning, which are a part of Subaru’s EyeSight driver assistance system. In some ways, safety features such as these aren’t as critical in wagons as they are in larger vehicles, like SUVs, but they may be worth getting.