The numbers don't lie: our roads are much safer now than they were 10, 20, or 30 years ago. But that doesn't mean they're completely safe. In fact, according to the CDC, car accidents are the leading cause of accidental death among all Americans aged 5-24—and it's the number two cause of accidental death among everyone 25 years of age and up. So it's important that you have as safe a car as you can.
Usually, what we can get—safety, features, efficiency, style—is defined by our budget. But because used cars decrease in value as they age, you can often get quite a lot of safety for not so much money. Because safety technology has only really accelerated its pace significantly in the past few years, cars from the 2009 or 2010 model years are often just as safe as those sold today. But how do we determine just how safe a car is?
Fortunately, there are agencies that do that for us, with rigorous crash-testing methods that evaluate many aspects of a vehicle's performance in an accident. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), is the government's vehicle safety testing program, and it awards safety ratings on a scale of 1 to 5 stars. While it's a great basis for getting a feel for a car's crashworthiness, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has even more advanced testing and standards. In order to win its highest award (Top Safety Pick, or the enhanced Top Safety Pick+), a vehicle must not only perform very well in crash testing, it must offer a number of specific safety technologies.
Accordingly, we've broken down the winners of the IIHS Top Safety Pick award since 2009 to bring you a list of all of the safest cars you can buy—starting with the vehicle category that is perhaps most concerned with safety: Minivans. No matter which of these minivans you pick, you'll be picking one that was among the cream of its safety crop in the year it was made.
Having won the IIHS TSP award every year since 2009 except 2010, as well as a Top Safety Pick+ award in 2014, the Honda Odyssey is our co-choice for the safest minivan you can buy. Ranging from well under $10,000 for 2009 models to well over $30,000 for 2013 and 2014 models, there's a Honda Odyssey to fit most budgets.
Even the 2009 Honda Odyssey offered side curtain airbags for all three rows of seats, a rollover sensor designed to pre-deploy those side curtain airbags in case of a rollover, front-row torso airbags, electronic stability control, anti-lock brakes, and daytime running lights. If you skip up to a newer model, a Forward Collision Warning system is available on EX-L or Touring models.
The Toyota Sienna has won the same number of IIHS TSP awards as the Honda Odyssey; the Odyssey won first, but the Sienna has more consecutive wins. In either minivan, you're sure to find a comfortable ride and an interior designed for your daily life. The Sienna runs about the same price range as the Honda Odyssey. Picking between the two comes down to personal preference, as ultimately, there can be no wrong choice with these two exemplars of minivan safety.
The Sienna's standard complement of safety equipment includes three-row side curtain airbags, front seat-mounted torso airbags, a driver knee airbag, electronic stability control, antilock brakes, but if you want to get a front crash prevention system, you'll have to go newer than the 2014 model year. The lack of rollover detection and forward collision warning availability are what push the Sienna to a very close second place behind the Odyssey.
The Dodge Grand Caravan, while maybe not as big a name as the Odyssey or Sienna in some circles, traces its lineage back to the original minivan, the Dodge Caravan. While it's undergone many changes over the years, the latest versions of the Grand Caravan are (or can be configured to be) feature-packed, comfortable, high-tech minivans just like all of the other vehicles on this list.
In terms of safety features, the Grand Caravan gets plenty: side curtain airbags for all three rows, plus seat-mounted torso airbags for the front seats, a driver knee airbag, built-in child restraints (optional), electronic stability control, anti-lock brakes, and daytime running lights.
Based on the Dodge Grand Caravan, the Chrysler Town & Country is nearly identical to its Dodge-branded counterpart, except for a slightly tweaked design aesthetic inside and out. That said, Chrysler's version of the van was often better-equipped than some Dodge versions, and while that translated to a big price differential when new, now that they're used, the price difference is almost nothing. That means you might be able to get a more loaded Town & Country than a Grand Caravan of the same price.
Although you might not expect it, the Volkswagen Routan wasn't really a Volkswagen at all—it was built right alongside the Chrysler Town & Country and Dodge Grand Caravan at Chrysler's Windsor assembly plant in Ontario, Canada.
As you'd expect, the Germans at Volkswagen did put their mark on the vehicle, albeit barely, with mildly revised style and little else to distinguish it from its Chrysler cousins. There's no reason not to buy a Routan over a Town & Country or Grand Caravan, except possibly that the Routan's discontinuation after the 2012 model year could make some exterior and interior replacement parts harder to come by--and therefore more expensive.
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