Safest New & Used Vehicles [That You Can Buy Today]

Safest New and Used Vehicles

Each of these vehicles on our list has the very best safety test scores for 2021, and each also has an excellent (low) driver death rate from the 2017 model year.

All of these vehicles are great choices whether you buy one new today or are shopping for a used vehicle four years old or so.

Here is our list of the five safest new and used vehicles you can buy.

Check out our top picks for:

Read about how we rank our vehicles >>

Where Data Comes From

Who Provided the Data for This List?

Vehicle safety is a tricky thing to gauge. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the Insurance Institute For Highway Safety (IIHS), and the Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI) all do hard work to try to bring consumers useful information on which vehicles are the safest choices.

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First, we rely heavily on the safety testing done by IIHS. That includes both crash testing and their evaluation of other safety systems such as headlights and driver-assist technology. Next, we look at the list that HLDI teases out of endless NHTSA data on real-world driver death rates.

Although many small vehicles earn great safety scores, they are not as safe in multi-vehicle crashes as larger vehicles. Safety data from many years of real-world police fatality reports prove that midsize and large SUVs along with larger sedans and wagons are the safest vehicles one can purchase. For this reason, we exclude pickup trucks, sport coupes, small SUVs, crossovers, and sedans from our list.

You may also notice that we ignore the NHTSA “Five-Star” safety testing in our rankings. We do so because IIHS tests its vehicles more rigorously and at higher speeds than does NHTSA. We consider the individual IIHS model ratings better.

Last, we have excluded some models with excellent ratings because they are pricey for their segment and made in low volumes.

Safest Cars Comparison

Model IIHS 2021 RatingSize Category2017 Real-World Driver Death Rate*
Toyota Highlander
Top Safety Pick Plus
3-Row Midsize/Large Crossover SUV
13
Subaru Outback
Top Safety Pick Plus
Midsize Wagon/Crossover
3
Subaru Legacy
Top Safety Pick Plus
Midsize Sedan
14
Ford Explorer
Top Safety Pick Plus
3-Row Large Crossover SUV
13
Honda Odyssey
Top Safety Pick Plus
Large Minivan
8

*What does real-world driver death rate mean?

1. Toyota Highlander (SUV)

Toyota-Highlander-Safest-CarsToyota’s Highlander is unique on our list. Not only does the Highlander earn the highest possible IIHS score of Top Safety Pick Plus, but it has also been ranked among the vehicles with the lowest real-world drive death rates in many past reports, not just the report that looked at the 2017 model year.

The Highlander is a midsize/large three-row crossover SUV with every modern active safety system available in the marketplace.

Current Toyota Highlander Deals & Incentives

YearMakeModelCash Incentives (up to)Best Avail. APRLease OffersExpiration
2021ToyotaHighlander
2022ToyotaHighlander1.90%9/6/2022
2021ToyotaHighlander Hybrid
2022ToyotaHighlander Hybrid1.90%9/6/2022

You may qualify for additional deals and incentives, check out this month's Toyota deals and average prices paid.

2. Subaru Outback (Wagon)

Subaru-Outback-Wagon-Safest-CarsThe Outback is arguably the best-selling wagon in America. Its added ground clearance gives it an advantage in some types of crashes, and Subaru’s EyeSight has long been an industry leader with regard to optical automatic emergency braking.

Since availability matters on our list, Subaru supplants some worthy Volvo wagon models and the Mercedes C-Class wagon. If you can’t find the vehicle, its safety rating is moot.

Current Subaru Outback Deals & Incentives

YearMakeModelCash Incentives (up to)Best Avail. APRLease OffersExpiration
2022SubaruOutback2.90%$315/month for 36 months, $3,515 due at signing8/31/2022
2023SubaruOutback2.90%$335/month for 36 months, $3,535 due at signing8/31/2022

You may qualify for additional deals and incentives, check out this month's Subaru deals and average prices paid.

3. Subaru Legacy (Sedan)

Subaru-Legacy-Sedan-Safest-CarsThe midsize Legacy sedan outscores the Camry and Accord on real-world driver death rates and can match or beat them in IIHS safety test rankings. The Legacy has earned the very best IIHS score possible for more than a decade, and the Top Safety Pick Plus score for as long as IIHS has used that rating.

You might say that this Subaru model has a legacy of safety. Look closely at real-world driver death rates, and you will see that models with all-wheel drive or four-wheel drive consistently score better than models that drive just two wheels.

Current Subaru Legacy Deals & Incentives

YearMakeModelCash Incentives (up to)Best Avail. APRLease OffersExpiration
2021SubaruLegacy
2022SubaruLegacy2.90%$269/month for 36 months, $3,219 due at signing8/31/2022

You may qualify for additional deals and incentives, check out this month's Subaru deals and average prices paid.

4. Ford Explorer (SUV)

Ford-Explorer-Safest-CarsThe Explorer is a large SUV that started as a body-on-frame design, moved to a unit-body design, and is now sort of a hybrid of the two styles. Size matters in safety, and the Explorer is a vehicle that is large but not massive. It’s also a perennial top-selling vehicle, something that can’t be said about any large SUV.

Shoppers should note that the Explorer had some less than perfect IIHS safety test scores in past years. However, we feel that its size, Top Safety Pick Plus score for 2021 and 2020, plus its outstanding driver death rate score in past years earns it a spot on our list of safest vehicles.

Current Ford Explorer Deals & Incentives

YearMakeModelCash Incentives (up to)Best Avail. APRLease OffersExpiration
2021FordExplorer
2022FordExplorer$469/month for 36 months, $4,619 due at signing8/31/2022

You may qualify for additional deals and incentives, check out this month's Ford deals and average prices paid.

5. Honda Odyssey (Minivan)

Honda-Odyssey-Safest-CarsLike the Highlander, the Odyssey is a model that has had one of the lowest driver death rates of any vehicle for generations. For a decade, the Odyssey has also earned great IIHS scores on crash tests and other types of evaluations.

Honda takes safety seriously on all of its vehicle lines, so this is no surprise. However, we will add that those looking for an all-wheel drive minivan should not hesitate to purchase a Toyota Sienna. It was a close matchup with the Odyssey, and both earn top scores new.

Current Honda Odyssey Deals & Incentives

YearMakeModelCash Incentives (up to)Best Avail. APRLease OffersExpiration
2023HondaOdyssey3.90%$419/month for 36 months, $5,999 due at signing9/6/2022

You may qualify for additional deals and incentives, check out this month's Honda deals and average prices paid.

What Is the Safest Vehicle?

Which is the safest vehicle to own overall depends on your needs. We feel that IIHS is the best resource to use when shopping new.

Also, don’t forget the value of size and mass when it comes to safety. It’s easy to forget that small cars and SUVs are not as safe in crashes of many common types as larger vehicles are.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the safest vehicle overall to drive?

The Toyota Highlander, Subaru Outback, and Subaru Legacy have an impressive track record of real-world safety coupled with top scores on new model safety testing.

Are smaller vehicles with top safety ratings as safe as large vehicles?

No, smaller vehicles with new vehicle safety ratings that match those of larger vehicles are not as safe. IIHS and NHTSA both point out that their ratings are relevant to the vehicle’s size class. Bigger, more massive vehicles have the edge in safety in multi-vehicle crashes.

Is all-wheel drive or four-wheel drive a safety feature?

Yes, all-wheel drive and four-wheel drive vehicles consistently score higher than the same model with just two-wheel drive in real-world safety evaluations.

Are newer vehicles safer than older vehicles?

Yes, newer models are safer for many reasons. It is important to note that safety ratings by IIHS get harder as time passes. A Top Safety Pick Plus score for 2021 is much harder for automakers to earn than it was when the group started that system. New vehicles have improved safety systems as well.