By on October 31, 2016

Dodge Neon (DriveAllDayPics/Flickr)

Modern vehicles are, for the most part, a treasure trove of technology designed to keep your sorry butt out of the emergency room, but not every driver enjoys such luxuries.

The average vehicle on the road is 11 or 12 years old, hailing from a time when backup cameras needed to be hand held, side airbags were a new and rare option, and five-star safety ratings weren’t easy to come by — especially in the types of vehicles you see in a Walmart parking lot.

Well, we now have a list of the most dangerous average-age vehicles on the road. Expect to lose some sleep if you’re unlucky enough to have one of these rides sitting in your driveway.

Compiled by 24/7 Wall St., the list taps Insurance Institute for Highway Safety crash data for vehicle generations that were in production in 2005. The top 12 vehicles for crash unworthiness skew heavily towards the compact field, with a grim reminder of the former oxymoron of “South Korean quality.”

According to the publication:

To compile America’s most dangerous cars, the model must have received a poor or “marginal” rating in either the frontal crash impact or side crash impact safety tests — frontal and side impact collisions are the most fatal. Additionally, a car must have also received a “poor” rating on either the roof strength test, which simulates a vehicle rollover, or the head restraint and seat test, which simulates a rear-end collision.

So, what sorry model takes the No. 1 spot? Hand that bandage-wrapped prize to the second-generation Dodge Neon (2000-2005).

This model, which was sold as the Chrysler Neon and Dodge SX 2.0 in Canada, has terrible side impact protection and poor headrests and seats as its Achilles Heel(s). Between 2002 and 2005, the model logged 160 deaths, more than any other vehicle on the road at the time. You can do better than this at any of today’s buy-here-pay-here lots.

In second place is a much larger, much more utilitarian model, the 1996-2005 GMC Safari/Chevrolet Astro. This boxy, rear-drive van sold like gangbusters (and rusted like a tin can by the seashore), but its visual solidity did nothing for the protection of people inside.

The model scores low marks for poor moderate overlap crash protection, seats and headrests. Despite its frontal crash vulnerability, which could lead to leg injury, the Safari/Astro recorded the lowest death rate of any model between 2002 and 2005.

In third place is a vehicle that’s come a long way since George W. Bush’s first term. The 2001-2006 GMC Sierra suffered from poor seat and headrest safety, with only marginal front crash protection, despite the size of the vehicle. While the Sierra and its Chevrolet Silverado twin now score top marks for crash protection, that doesn’t help owners of 10 to 15-year-old models.

Placing just off the podium of shame is the dismal 2006-2011 Hyundai Accent, the economy car that looked the part more than any other. This rolling egg scored the worst marks for side impact safety, seats and headrests. Its appearance on this list shouldn’t comes as a surprise — in fact, you were already probably thinking about the Accent when you started reading this.

Coming in at No. 5 is the 2001-2005 Kia Optima (sold as the Magentis in Canada). If you enjoy having a pelvis and torso, stay clear of Kia’s first attempt at building a midsize car. The model fares poorly in side impact crash tests, while its headrests and seats are nothing to write home about.

You’ve seen the best (of the worst), now here’s the rest. The 2006-2009 Kia Rio suffers the same ills as the Optima, the 2000-2006 Mazda MPV also suffers from soft sides, and the driver of a 2000-2006 Nissan Sentra will likely see his or her head rebound off the front of any vehicle hitting their vehicle amidships.

A low-buck used car favorite — the 1999-2005 Pontiac Grand Am, of which this writer has owned two — stands at No. 9 on the list. Folds like Superman on laundry day in head-on collisions, it seems. The forgettable 2002-2005 Saturn L-Series is weak in the middle section. And drivers and passengers looking to avoid traumatic brain injuries in side impacts should stay away from the 2005-2008 Suzuki Forenza and 2003-2005 Grand Vitara, in which our managing editor spent his formative years. That probably explains a lot.

[Image: DriveAllDayPics/Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)]

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76 Comments on “Is Your Car One of the Most Dangerous Vehicles on the Road?...”


  • avatar
    Car Guy

    The only thing keeping most of those early Neon owners safe was their vehicle was probably in the shop most of the time with a blown head gasket!

    • 0 avatar
      Alfisti

      I had a 2000 neon and the engine held together for 220,000km. She was a shop queen though, front suspension was incredibly Poor, every part broke every 60,000km or so.

      Hopeless.

    • 0 avatar
      JimZ

      except the head gasket issue was fixed in the first-gen Neon in 1998 when they changed to a multi-layer steel (MLS) gasket.

      my 2004 SRT-4 (MLS-equipped from the factory) went 170,000 on the original gasket, and probably longer but that’s when I sold it.

    • 0 avatar
      ponchoman49

      Lol my roommates 2000 Neon fit that description well. I was always having to go and rescue him in my 1998 Grand Prix. Alternators, mysterious power drains that killed many a battery, oil leaks, head gaskets, failed A/C and an engine that idled so rough you could create a milkshake were the highlights.

  • avatar
    sirwired

    “The average vehicle on the road is 11 or 12 years old … side airbags were a new and rare option”

    It was not “new and rare” for cars to have side-impact airbags twelve years ago. Maybe in the mid-90’s this was the case, but not the mid-oughts; they were pretty darn common by that point. (Standard in some models, and an option in most, even low-rent Penalty Boxes.)

    In fact, every single vehicle in your list, with the exception of the Astro and Grand Am, could be ordered with them. (At least they could by 2004, the oldest list of vehicles with side airbags that I could find.)

    • 0 avatar
      JuniperBug

      Granted, it’s now more like 13 years old, but my ’04 Concorde doesn’t have them, and they weren’t available. That car wasn’t positioned as a low-rent penalty box, either.

      Keep in mind that an average fleet age of 12 years old means that there has to be a good number of >12 year-old cars to offset the newer ones on the road.

    • 0 avatar
      Lack Thereof

      The author is right – side airbags were rare in volume vehicles of the early ’00s. In midsize sedans, they were typically optional with availability tied to a high-level trim package, and in compacts they may have been technically optional, but were virtually unheard of on actual dealer lots. Kind of like ABS brakes or traction control in the same era.

  • avatar
    FormerFF

    Point A: Any of the vehicles mentioned are vastly more crashworthy that anything that was available when I first started driving, not to mention started begin driven. We didn’t even use seatbelts back then. To think of an old Neon as a deathtrap is an overdramatization.

    Point B: I know a lot of people who think an old beater is a good first car, especially for a teenager. Considering that teens are the most likely to crash, get the kid something reasonably recent.

    • 0 avatar
      raph

      >>Point B: I know a lot of people who think an old beater is a good first car, especially for a teenager. Considering that teens are the most likely to crash, get the kid something reasonably recent.<<

      That's usually not an option for cash strapped parents who misguidedly decided to have kids and ignore the reality of their financial situation so they settle for what they can afford ranging from hand-me-downs to whatever rolling piles of crap they can afford.

      Then again IMO if junior and juniorette want a set of wheels the best course of action would be to tell them to get a job and save up for a car as well as covering the costs for operation.

  • avatar
    Alfisti

    Ha!! Owned the neon and the accent of said vintage at the same time!! Amazing.

    Replaced them with a 2008 9-3 and 2013 X3, that outta be a safety step up of some sort.

    • 0 avatar
      JimZ

      even though I was well into my 30s at the time, my 2012 Mustang GT was still cheaper to insure than my 2004 SRT-4, even with identical coverages.

      • 0 avatar
        Alfisti

        Yeah my neon was worthless In 2010 yet the near new 08 saab was cheaper to insure.

      • 0 avatar
        raph

        I’d imagine that had more to do with what sort of individual was attracted to the SRT-4 compared to the Mustang GT (fortunately insurance companies rely on something more solid than anecdotally proven YouTube research).

        A buddy of mine said it best. He got out of his SRT-4 when he looked in the mirror and said that he couldn’t see himself driving an SRT-4 over the age of 30 and the crowd that car attracted just started turning into a bad scene.

        • 0 avatar
          Lorenzo

          Yup, insurance companies judge people by the cars they drive, but so do others. A friend of mine bought his dad’s Chrysler 300, and after being pulled over three times, put a sticker on the back that read, Not A Drug Dealer.

  • avatar
    JohnTaurus_3.0_AX4N

    I was driving my parents 1997 Mercury Sable when a lady in a 98 Grand AM decided she could make a left turn when she couldn’t.

    I did what I could to avoid her but we hit. The Grand AM folded like a Dixie cup. You would think I were doing 60, but the Sable also jumped a curb and hit a protective rail. It was drivable, but WSP wouldn’t let me drive it home because it had a broken headlight.

    The Grand AM had to be pushed out of the intersection with a new for 1998 P71 with a push bar. The people in it suffered some rash from the airbags, but fortunately were otherwise unhurt as far as I know.

    The airbags went off in the Pontiac, but not the Sable’s. The Sable was fixed and suffered very little after being repaired, as we kept it until 2009 or so.

  • avatar
    vvk

    I feel strongly that the most dangerous is not vehicles that perform poorly in crash tests but vehicle MISMATCH. Take the safest, most solid subcompact and get into a collision with a full size pickup (SUV, crossover, generic tall vehicle) and all the safety engineering goes right out the window. Given how dangerous pickups (SUVs, etc.) are to passenger vehicles around them and the fact that they are by far the best selling vehicles in the US, you get a lot of unnecessary deaths and injuries. All the talk about zero-star crash tests and so on is pointless because no matter how hard you try, if pickups continue to be bought and driven by everybody with a pulse, there is no avoiding death or injury. The taller vehicle overrides the lower vehicle’s safety features and you are done.

    • 0 avatar
      brn

      youtube[dot]com/watch?v=JN1uDH9ZWp0&t=3m0s

      Two cars from the same company. The parent company would have you believe they are equally safe. Notice how the smaller car is actually moving backwards, while the larger car continues forward. The result is MUCH more rapid deceleration of the smaller vehicle.

      I’d rather be in the larger car.

      Even worse:
      youtube[dot]com/watch?v=he6TL15pJtw

  • avatar
    dal20402

    Progress over time is steady and, if you look at the crash test results, kind of amazing.

    My 1995 Legend was excellent at the time, with dual airbags, ABS, and a good crumple structure. Compared to today’s cars, it’s a death trap, and I won’t take my kid in it for any trip that leaves the neighborhood streets. If we’re still driving ourselves when he reaches driving age, he’s getting something with safety tech as current as he/we can afford.

    The presence of the GMT800 and Astro/Safari on this list should dispel any notion that mass is good enough. Mass is helpful if and only if the structure is right to start with.

    • 0 avatar
      JimZ

      someone posted a video on Oppositelock of an insane multi-car collision on some California highway. this wasn’t your average rush-hour pile-up; it started with two cars off on the shoulder after colliding, then 5 minutes of people not paying attention and swerving to miss the cars on the shoulder, or just plain hitting them at high speed. One of them was a (new) Dart, which I’m guessing rear ended one of the stopped cars at somewhere between 40-60 mph. I mean, it hit *HARD* where it spun the Camry(?) around and pushed it forward quite a bit.

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hZL6OKwQGew

      skip ahead to about 53 seconds. Then watch as everyone opens the doors and gets out, even the driver- a (VERY) large woman.

      Even 20 years ago there would have been a lot of dead people on that scene.

      • 0 avatar
        dal20402

        Ugh, that crash is the stuff of nightmares. Poor visibility, wet pavement, cars stopped in the travel lane (there’s no or very narrow shoulder on that highway) and disabled so they can’t be moved to the shoulder. Keep your eyes up.

      • 0 avatar
        Willyam

        JimZ, excellent point, and great vid illustrating that.

        Just 16 yrs ago I lived in Kansas City, and we were hit with a freak snowstorm out of the relative blue. The exact opposite of your example results, people could not get out, and many burned in their wreckage. The corridor to the airport is a long, divided, multi-lane highway. When cars began running right into the clouds of snow and ice at high speeds, an absolute nightmare happened. It was a sobering experience realizing what could happen to you faster than you could react and mostly out of your control.

        http://www.cbsnews.com/news/10-dead-in-mo-multi-car-pileup/

        This same snowstorm is the one that paralyzed Derrick Thomas, who was unbelted in a Suburban if memory serves correctly.

  • avatar
    Lightspeed

    My Sunbird was pretty tough. A young woman slid through an intersection on ice and it was one of those low-speed, winter collisions that unfolds so slowly it’s hilarious. I hit her Ford Escort squarely on her front wheel. The sunbird had a crack in bumper cover, the Escort lost the front wheel, fender, headlight, signal light. Wrote it off, I reckon.

  • avatar
    SlowMyke

    I’ve seen all the horror-story crash test videos and images of the astros failing the frontal overlap tests, but the statistics apparently fly in the face of all that. So these vehicles are rated some of the most dangerous while statistically speaking appear to be the least deadly? Not that a 15 year old vehicle warrants that much extra research, but perhaps the 2002-2005 astro would make an interesting case-study to improve both crash safety and safety testing.

    • 0 avatar
      formula m

      I think the driving position in an Astro van feels different like you are sitting above the front wheels. Kind of feels more vulnerable combined with the fact they are large (easily visible) and slow are my theory.

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    I’m surprised the pre-2004 F150 isn’t on that list, it must be a car only list.

  • avatar
    Russycle

    The Rio does OK in a frontal collision, as my daughter found out first-hand when a MINI pulled out in front of her on the highway. My mom had GrandAm that became mine, fortunately neither of us tested it’s crash-worthiness.

  • avatar
    TR4

    So why is the Astro “in second place” but also has the LOWEST death rate? I suggest that the IIHS ratings are flawed. Perhaps they place too much emphasis on items that don’t count for much in the real world. Anecdotally, my daughter totaled our ’85 in a front end collision but was not injured.

    • 0 avatar
      Pch101

      The “real world” provides a more inaccurate result.

      There are about 260 million vehicles in the United States.

      In recent years, there have about 30,000 fatal crashes per year that killed about 35,000 people.

      The odds that a given vehicle will be in a fatal crash are very, very low. Individual circumstances often govern whether a vehicle will be involved in a crash that could be potentially fatal.

      Let’s suppose that Tammy Teetotaler drives a 1959 VW Bug about 5,000 miles per year on low-speed city streets, while Larry “Lemans” Liquorlover drives his late-model Volvo 15,000 miles per year, usually while wasted.

      Larry drives the safer car, but he is more likely to be involved in a fatal because he drives more and indulges in high-risk behavior.

      If Larry dies this year but Tammy does not, that is not an indicator that Tammy is driving a safer car.

      If Larry doesn’t crash this year, that is not an indicator that his Volvo kept him alive.

      If Tammy doesn’t die this year, that is not an indicator that VW Bugs are safety champions.

      If Tammy does die this year, that does not necessarily indicate that the VW contributed to her death. (For example, she may get T-boned by a semi that would have killed just about anyone who wasn’t also in a semi.)

      The best thing that we can do is to crash test cars, as that is only way that they can be fairly compared to each other. Those tests do lead to design improvements that improve the odds of survival, so they are useful.

    • 0 avatar
      Lack Thereof

      This (the alarming safety ratings of the Astro/Safari and it’s continued production long after the design’s expiration date) has actually been discussed in the media before; it was a perennial news story during the last few years of its production. The general gist of the discussion ends up being as follows:

      By 2004, Astros configured for passenger use had been long since replaced by U-body vans in the GM lineup. Virtually all Astro’s built in the aughts were sold to fleets, displayed “1-800-how’s-my-driving” stickers on the back, and were driven exclusively during daylight hours by sober drivers. By this point in time, many fleets were starting to use those OBD-II dongles that report speeding and high g-force cornering/braking events to the fleet supervisor.

      As such, they tended to be categorically get in fewer severe accidents, not due to any feature of their design, but as a result of who was operating them. When they DO get in bad wrecks, there is absolutely carnage.

  • avatar
    bikegoesbaa

    That the worst model logs well under 100 deaths per year strikes me as pretty good, actually.

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    ” the Safari/Astro recorded the lowest death rate of any model between 2002 and 2005.”

    That’s because the old people driving them never go above 29mph. I’d like a loaded up black/black Safari AWD.

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    Absolutely stunned that the GM U-bodies from 1996-2004(5) aren’t on here.

    They IIRC the worst vehicle the IIHS ever tested (Tran Sport, Montana, Montana SV6, Venture, Silhouette (non-dust buster).

    The 2005 (and to make things complicated the Pontiac Montana was both the old style AND the new style and 2005 model year vehicles) through 2008 models got good ratings in the IIHS 40 MPH offset crash, and improved on side impact to acceptable in 2006.

    But the 96 – 04(05) were just deathmobiles for both offset and side impact.

    • 0 avatar
      CoreyDL

      I got in a ridiculous Facebook argument the other day about the early U-body, as a man was contending it was a great family vehicle for people on a budget.

      “Just don’t get in a crash.” was his safety defense.

      • 0 avatar
        zoomzoomfan

        My friend’s parents sold their ’99 Montana shortly after they became aware of the crash test videos for it. Of course, it blew its lower intake manifold gaskets shortly after (gotta love GM Dexcool and the 60 degree V6s), so they lucked out on two accounts.

      • 0 avatar
        raph

        >>“Just don’t get in a crash.” was his safety defense.<<

        "Good" advice and it works right up to the point where factors outside your influence start to occur.

    • 0 avatar
      SaulTigh

      When I was in law enforcement in the early aughts, a GM J-body was a certifiable death trap.

  • avatar
    SaulTigh

    I’m very cognizant of this when I putter around town in my 21-year old Sable. It’s structure feels very light compared to new vehicles, and of course no side airbags. It doesn’t stop, steer, or accelerate particularly well so I drive very defensively when I’m in it, even more so than my normal, careful driving style.

    • 0 avatar
      zoomzoomfan

      Yeah, I have a ’95 Chevy S-10 that has an occasional flickering “air bag” warning light. I’ve also seen the S-10s crash test video. Needless to say, my soon-to-be-born son won’t be riding in it. When it was new, sure. But now? It’s had 21 years of exposure to the elements and it’s size and mass are far eclipsed by many other vehicles on the road today.

      Thankfully, it’s a spare vehicle and I only drive it 1-2k miles a year.

  • avatar
    indi500fan

    Expect to lose some sleep

    BWAHAHAH

    As one who grew up in an era of no seatbelts, bias tires, and drum brakes, but still plenty of 80 mph interstate travel, I laugh heartily.

  • avatar
    brandloyalty

    I used to get a lot of satisfaction in keeping an old car in nice shape and on the road. Not because I couldn’t afford a new one. Some of the satisfaction was that less of my cash was going to the car manufacturers. A 1990 Spirit.

    The rear end was starting to loosen up, and new bushings didn’t completely fix it.

    Then I was in an accident that I survived mostly due to good luck. The accident included fishtailing, likely exacerbated by the minor slack in the rear suspension. Suddenly it seemed pretty dumb to be driving a smallish flimsy car with no stability control or airbags while I could easily afford a new car.

    Fortunately it was a write-off so there was no temptation to fix it. There comes a point where common sense trumps ideology.

  • avatar
    Ryoku75

    If the first gen Optima was poor in safety, can I assume this applies to the Sonata as well? And more than likely the XG350.

    Makes me glad I didnt go for one.

  • avatar
    zoomzoomfan

    The strides manufacturers have made in safety tech and crash protection in the recent years are nothing short of amazing. Even just a few years ago, cars were considerably less safe than they are now, even when those cars themselves were safer than ones from the ’80s and ’90s.

    I had a 2008 Mazda3 hatchback that had side airbags, ESC, ABS, etc., and I still felt a bit unsafe in it due to its relative size compared to most soccer mom Tahoes and Expeditions around here. I drive a Mazda6 now, which isn’t that much bigger but still feels a bit more solid. At least it got the Top Safety Pick award from the IIHS.

    I shudder to think about all the late-’90s cars around here that I see with multiple child seats in them. That ’97 Camry may have been safe for its time but there weren’t as many big ass trucks and SUVs on the road then, either. Sure, the SUV craze was in full swing, but compare a ’97 Explorer’s mass to a 2017s. Damn.

  • avatar
    whynotaztec

    Why the sierra and not the silvy? Maybe they are different! /s

    I always wondered about my 92 Miata which I sold last year. Sure it was small, but also, a 23 year old airbag?

    • 0 avatar
      raph

      >> Why the sierra and not the silvy? Maybe they are different! /s <<

      Probably for the same reasons a W-body Pontiac was considered less reliable compared to a W-body Buick despite having similar drivetrains and being assembled by the same workers.

  • avatar
    Joss

    I recall with the 2000-2006 Nissan Sentra there was an available PSP. Which stood for personal safety package. It included abs & side airbags. Humble now, it was only available on the top GXE trim – it was a rare order. I don’t think NHSTA ever tested one with it.

    • 0 avatar
      Lorenzo

      The 2000-2006 Sentra was the 1993-1997 Altima with the 1.8 instead of the 2.4, the same 4-speed auto, and cosmetic changes! In 2002 the Altima became mid-sized, but for 2000-2001 the Sentra and remodeled Altima were virtually the same car, except for engines and front/rear clips. I drove a 1995 Altima (Japan made) for nearly 20 years, so whoever is driving it now (it’s still on the road): don’t get T-boned!

  • avatar
    Carlson Fan

    Explain to me how the Sierra can be on the list and not the Silverado? It’s the same frappin truck. I guess the grill, body side moldings and tail lights on the Chevy provide better crash protection.

    And is it the 1/2 ton or 3/4 ton and up trucks? Both? I feel pretty safe in my ’04 Sierra HD. If something gets in my way I’ll just aim its massive frame rails at it.

    • 0 avatar
      Lack Thereof

      Looking at the source IIHS ratings, the Silverado and Sierra were considered to be the same truck for testing purposes. They only tested 1 truck to generate both ratings, a no-options Silverado W/T. So the failure to include the Silverado is an oversight on the article writer’s part, not a failure of the testing organization.

      Whenever you’re looking at crash-test ratings, you can assume it’s only the 1/2 ton version being tested. Most 3/4-ton and above trucks are classified “medium-duty”, and thus are exempt from lots of the NHTSA and EPA standards that light-duty trucks and passenger cars have to abide by. Most 3/4 ton and above trucks don’t even get a star rating from the government (although they’re starting to expand testing to more 3/4 ton truck models). The handful that do get tested usually get 1-2 stars lower rating than their 1/2 ton cousins, usually due to safety features standard on 1/2 ton omitted on 3/4 ton, and the rigider HD frames transmitting more impact energy to the cab.

  • avatar
    Erikstrawn

    “The top 12 vehicles for crash unworthiness skew heavily towards the compact field, with a grim reminder of the former oxymoron of “South Korean quality.””

    The author calls out the three South Korean cars on the list, but fails to point out that four of the cars are GM? Or that another four are Japanese?

  • avatar
    matt3319

    10 years from now we will probably say the same thing about some cars today.

    Remember when we didn’t have self driving cars…the Hyundai Elantra, the Ford Fiesta and Focus and Nissan Sentra.

    Those cars had no self driving function or exterior body airbags….what a crazy time it was in 2016. Driving all those death traps…..how did we survive back then

    See what I mean!

    • 0 avatar
      ponchoman49

      Which makes a lot of these articles rather pointless. Yes some things were worse off back then. But some things were also better so its a give and take thing progress.

    • 0 avatar
      DweezilSFV

      Matt: According to NHTSA 48% of vehicle fatalities still come from people too stupid to wear seat belts. I see exactly what you mean.

      And drivers will still find a way to kill themselves [ and unbelted passengers ] behind the wheel.

  • avatar
    DougD

    I think I’ve got all those beat, today I drove the 1963 Beetle to work. It does have lap belts, but I figure that those are just so my body will be found with the car after an accident, not to protect me. I drive DEFENSIVELY in it, knowing I’m toast if anything happens, although with only 40hp I probably couldn’t drive offensively if I tried.

    I agree with FormerFF’s two points. +2

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