The Surprising Car Brands Consumers Can’t Always Trust for Safety

Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors, speak to Congress while GM executives look on in June 2014.

General Motors CEO Mary Barra (R) listens to questions during a House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing on Capitol Hill on June 18, 2014. | Mark Wilson/Getty Images

How far has the auto industry come on safety? We’re still waiting for the jury to come back with the verdict. While the disturbing Ford Pinto scandal is now just a memory, the GM ignition switch scandal took place in the 21st century; its effects are still felt by many. No one should be ready to assume automakers have a customer’s best interests in mind when there is a cheaper alternative available.

As you shop for a new vehicle, consumers have to keep an eye on safety ratings and match them to the specific model year. Even if a vehicle does well in crash tests, you should know about issues with visibility or the dependability of its powertrain and brake systems. If you do not have advanced safety equipment installed, these are your last lines of defense.

Checking safety award winners, vehicles with NHTSA complaints, and other problems on the record, we found several automakers lacking overall in this department. Here are the seven car brands consumers shouldn’t always trust for safety.

1. Dodge

Front three-quarter view of 2014 Dodge Durango from driver's side

2014 Dodge Durango | Dodge

The Dodge brand has not earned itself a reputation for safety over the years. You won’t find a single one among IIHS Top Safety Pick winners in 2016 or 2017. However, you will find Grand Caravan and Charger among the vehicles with the most NHTSA safety complaints in the past decade. (As a brand, Dodge ranked fourth among automakers on the complaint list.)  Finally, the Journey SUV appeared on the IIHS list of models with the worst headlights in 2017.

2. Jeep

View of green 2016 Jeep Wrangler on mountaintop

2016 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited

Fiat-Chrysler brands have come to rank among the least reliable on the U.S. market, and the automaker’s safety reputation is not going to inspire many consumers. In the case of Jeep, the brand logged the most NHTSA safety complaints of any automaker over the past 10 years, with Grand Cherokee (second) and Wrangler (fourth) near the top of the list. Meanwhile, Jeep has not had a Top Safety Pick award since 2013. Rollover risk and fuel tank issues are among the concerns Wrangler shoppers should consider.

3. Chevrolet

2017 Chevrolet Suburban

Chevrolet Suburban | Chevrolet

While you will find Chevy’s electric vehicles and midsize Malibu among the ’17 Top Safety Pick winners, you won’t find any of the brand’s seven SUVs and trucks on the list. In recent years, some of the large Chevy vehicles took heat on safety fronts. Tahoe ranked among the top 10 on the U.S. market for risk of tipping over in 2016. On the visibility front, Consumer Reports found Suburban and Camaro among the worst available vehicles. Overall, the company that brought us the ignition switch scandal is not yet in the clear.

4. Fiat

Passenger side view of red Fiat 500L Pop

2016 Fiat 500L Pop | Fiat

Fiat may only have three available models in America, but IIHS found flaws in each when running safety tests in recent years. The subcompact  500 and 500L hatchback both maintained a “poor rating” — the worst possible mark — in the small front overlap crash test every year since 2012. Even the 500X, winner of a Top Safety Pick award in 2017, had a few demerits for its poor headlight quality and marginal child seat latches. When iSeeCars counted the NHTSA safety complaints since 2005, Fiat ranked among the 10 worst.

5. Mitsubishi

Close-up view of white 2016 Outlander Sport grille

Mitsubishi Outlander Sport | Mitsubishi

With Mitsubishi’s light footprint in the U.S. market, consumers may not be familiar with the automaker’s safety record. From a wide angle, only one Mitsubishi (Outlander) has received a five-star NHTSA rating since 2011. Going by models, the brand had no top safety picks in 2017 and just one in ’16 (also Outlander). The smaller Outlander Sport SUV received an acceptable rating for front overlap crash tests and a “poor” rating for headlights in 2017.

As for the brand’s small cars, the Mirage and Mirage G4 both received “marginal” ratings in the small front overlap test. Lancer, which was one of the deadliest cars for drivers since 2011, held the status of Top Safety Pick in recent years but lost that designation in 2016.

6. Ford

Passenger's side angle front three quarter shot of 2014 Ford Fiesta hatch

2014 Ford Fiesta | Ford

The Ford brand has come a long way from the days of the Pinto and faulty transmission scandals. In 2015, the automaker landed a Top Safety Pick award for the F-150, which was the first of its kind for a pickup truck. Nonetheless, there have been issues with Ford small cars in recent years. Both Fiesta and Focus scored poorly in J.D. Power dependability survey for powertrain and brake systems. Meanwhile, the brand had no Top Safety Pick+ winner in 2017. (Fusion won the lesser award).

Looking at specific models, readers may have noticed the past-generation Fusion and Edge among the vehicles with the most safety complaints since 2005. Finally, Fiesta and Focus ranked among the top 15 deadliest cars for drivers since 2011. As for 2017 models, the Edge and Explorer SUVs both rated poorly for headlight quality. Overall, the brand could do much better.

7. Chrysler

Road shot of 2015 Chrysler 300C sedan

2015 Chrysler 300C | Fiat-Chrysler

After Jeep, Chrysler ranked highest in NHTSA safety complaints since 2005. Chrysler 300 had the most issues (with 2006 models performing terribly) while the Town & Country minivan was only a bit better. If you’re looking for powertrain/brake system dependability, the 200 and 300 sedans scored lowest in their class in J.D. Power dependability surveys.

Finally, Chrysler 200 ranked 12th among the deadliest vehicles in America in recent years. Digging out from this hole could be a challenge for the brand. The Pacifica minivan, which received the Top Safety Pick+ award in 2016 and ’17, has a chance to change the narrative a bit. We’ll see if this momentum continues as the brand’s lineup dwindles.

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