Everyone wants to be safe while cruising with the top down and the wind in their hair. But owning a convertible brings a host of safety issues that other types of vehicles don’t have.
Crash Test Ratings
In the United States, two organizations rate cars in crash tests: the non-profit Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) and the federal government’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). These agencies use different criteria when rating cars for crashworthiness, but both are well-respected.
The IIHS gives vehicles a score of Good, Acceptable, Marginal or Poor in roof strength, front, rear and side tests. Cars that receive the top score of Good in all IIHS crash tests are named Top Safety Picks. NHTSA uses a five-star rating system, with five being the highest rating, to evaluate vehicles in front and side crash tests and a rollover test. Vehicles then earn an overall rating. The IIHS usually does not perform roof strength tests on convertibles, so there are no convertibles that earn the Top Safety Pick award. However, the Chrysler 200, Ford Mustang, Volkswagen Eos and Volvo C70 convertibles all earned a score of Good in the other three tests.
Unfortunately, the IIHS and NHTSA don’t test all convertibles on the market. Convertibles are often low-volume cars when compared with sedan and coupe counterparts, and the agencies generally test more high-volume vehicles. For this reason, safety ratings can also be hard to come by for luxury cars and sports cars. If neither agency has tested the convertible you want, check to see if the car is also made in coupe or sedan body styles. Convertibles cannot adopt these scores because they have a different body structure, but the results may give you an idea of the base car’s shortcomings. A little insight into a car’s safety is better than none.
High-end sports cars, such as the Porsche Boxster, are rarely tested by either agency. In these cases, you’re limited to making an assessment based on the safety features and a vehicle’s overall size and weight. As a rule of thumb, larger vehicles have an advantage over smaller vehicles in a collision.
When you’re evaluating convertibles, there are a number of safety features you should consider. Most convertibles come with standard features that include driver and front passenger air bags, front-seat side air bags, curtain air bags, anti-lock brakes, traction control and electronic stability control. You may want to add safety tech features like a backup camera, parking sensors or a blind spot monitoring system, which can sometimes be costly. Though they increase a convertible’s bottom line, these enhanced visibility features are especially helpful on convertibles like the Chevrolet Camaro convertible, which reviewers say has particularly poor outward visibility. The Camaro convertible comes standard with a rearview camera and rear parking sensors.
Some convertibles also have roll bars behind the headrests of the driver and front passenger to help protect them in the event of a rollover accident. The Mazda MX-5 Miata has stationary roll bars behind the headrests, while the Volvo C70 has roll bars that automatically pop up if the car senses it’s about to roll over. The C70 also has door-mounted curtain air bags that inflate if the car is in a rollover accident. The Nissan 370Z Roadster is another convertible that has door-mounted curtain air bags that help protect occupants in a rollover crash, as well as roll bars behind the headrests. In the luxury convertible segment, the Porsche Boxster has a two-part rollover system and provides additional air bags to protect the head and chest in a crash.
Unique safety features can be found on some models. For example, the Ford Mustang Convertible comes with MyKey standard. MyKey is a system that allows owners to program a key to limit vehicle speed and stereo volume in order to keep teen drivers safe and focused on the road.
Overall, keep in mind that convertibles offer less protection than other types of cars in an accident. Blind spots, hard-to-use controls and distracting displays can make it difficult to drive safely and avoid accidents. Be sure to pay close attention to each of these during your convertible test drives. With all the safety features and technology currently available on new convertibles, you should be able to find one that makes you feel safe.