By on February 18, 2022

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) is claiming that individuals shopping for a secondhand automobile end up learning less about the modern features lurking within their automobiles. Considering salespeople have meetings about how best to hype the advanced driving aids in new models, this one really shouldn’t have required a survey for the IIHS to piece it together. But the outlet appears to be attempting to link this alleged lack of knowledge to make claims that it’ll somehow contribute to the probably of used vehicles being involved in a crash.

“Used car buyers were substantially less likely than new car buyers to know about the advanced driver assistance features present on their vehicles,” stated IIHS Senior Research Scientist Ian Reagan, the author of the study. “They were also less likely to be able to describe how those features work, and they had less trust in them. That could translate into less frequent use, causing crash reductions from these systems to wane.”

From IIHS:

Previous research has shown that forward collision warning with automated emergency braking (AEB) reduces police-reported front-to-rear crashes by 50 percent. Lane departure warning reduces single-vehicle, sideswipe and head-on crashes by 11 percent, and blind spot warning reduces lane-change crashes by 14 percent. However, the drivers of vehicles equipped with these features don’t always use them.

To explore potential differences in how new and used car buyers view these technologies, IIHS commissioned a survey of more than 750 drivers who owned 2016-19 models equipped with advanced driver assistance features as standard equipment. The respondents included 402 owners who bought their vehicles new and another 362 who bought their vehicles used.

Forward collision warning with AEB alerts the driver of an impending collision with another vehicle and automatically brakes to avoid impact. Lane departure warning notifies the driver when the vehicle is drifting out of the travel lane. Blind spot warning provides an alert when another vehicle is present in the adjacent lane.

The survey asked a series of questions pertaining to crash avoidance features, in addition to adaptive cruise control, to see how much drivers knew about the systems in their cars. The resulting data indicated that 84 percent of new-car buyers understood that their vehicle was equipped with blind-spot warning, compared with only 72 percent of used-car buyers. Meanwhile, 77 percent of ne-car buyers could accurately describe what lane-departure warning does vs 66 percent of those buying secondhand.

IIHS attributed this to those buying new having visited dealerships specializing in the brand they purchased 95 percent of the time (which honestly seems low), whereas the used autos only came from identically branded shops 74 percent of the time.

“Both sets of buyers said they received a good introduction to their vehicle’s features when they purchased it,” said Reagan. “But the buyers of new vehicles were more likely to say that the salesperson discussed details like how to adjust the features’ settings or the situations in which [advanced cruise control] might be useful.”

I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that the average driver has absolutely no clue how a majority of advanced driving aids work on any vehicle they currently own, regardless of where it came from. The IIHS even reported that only two-thirds of new buyers could present “acceptable” knowledge about what advanced cruise control even did.

But its solution to ensure dealers spend more time informing customers on the myriad of systems located within modern cars feels like a pipe dream. While I’m in total agreement that a person cannot take advantage of a feature they don’t know how to activate, most salespeople are going to prioritize getting their commission rather than spending hours with a customer to go over every single menu option (Ed. note — some dealers pay a person specifically to go over features with buyers as they take delivery). Additionally, there’s been too much fussing over the hidden problems associated with advanced driving aids for me to view them as habitually beneficial to drivers. I rarely have much use for anything that doesn’t offer greater situational awareness.

Though a research institute funded primarily by auto insurance companies is probably going to feel differently. Despite having released numerous studies showing how fallible modern safety tech can be, the IIHS has treated advanced driving aids with far more kindness than we have. Like most organizations, its allegiance remains with whoever is paying the bills and insurers have gotten interested in rolling these systems into tomorrow’s premiums.

That doesn’t make its studies worthless, just some of the resulting takes.

[Image: David Touchtone/Shutterstock]

Become a TTAC insider. Get the latest news, features, TTAC takes, and everything else that gets to the truth about cars first by subscribing to our newsletter.

Get the latest TTAC e-Newsletter!

23 Comments on “IIHS Study Suggests Buyers of Used Vehicles Learn Less About Their Car...”

  • avatar

    probability not probably

  • avatar

    Well, A new car dealer typically sells one brand, or brands that are related, under the same manufacturer’s umbrella, so it’s easier for them to learn about and explain the systems, and how to configure them. A used dealer usually carries lots of unrelated brands, so it’s no so simple.

    Of course there’s always the owner’s manual, owners forums, YouTube videos, etc., if owners are interested in learning.

  • avatar

    I had a beater 98 Altima I dd’d for years. When I sold it, dude asked me if the cruise worked, and I said, “Well, the buttons on the wheel don’t do jack”. He was all “You know there’s a button on the dash,right?” 10 years, 80K and I did NOT know there was a button. It took my wife 60K miles to find the tailgate glass button on the door panel of her hand me down CRV.

  • avatar

    Discovering that your used vehicle has capabilities you didn’t realize it had is one of the great pleasures of life.

  • avatar

    You can find owners manual on Net and start from there. I still have no idea how to use cruise control in my 2014 and 2018 Fusions because I never used one in 8 years. I don’t even know how to honk the horn. I tried few times during real life situations but it did not work. I usually press in despair center of the wheel and in all other cars it worked, even in Lada in which everything else did not.

  • avatar


    I usually go in search of buttons and lights that I don’t recognize and search around for those buttons and lights in the manual. In a used car I always assume there’s stuff I don’t know about going into it.

    Then again the last several vehicles I’ve bought were Mazdas and they largely had the same kit

    • 0 avatar

      Eh, I usually don’t bother beyond the HVAC. I don’t use cruise and never have, so it wasn’t something I was worried about. Pretty much all I ask from a commuter is “is it reliable?” and “does the HVAC work?”. I could care less about anything else, and the HVAC is negotiable if the car is cheap enough.

  • avatar

    I’m a lawyer, and this behavior is nonstandard and typical of my profession, but I feel compelled to do it.

    Every time I buy a used car I either grab the manual (and the last several used cars I’ve bought came with them) or find a PDF of it online and read all of the sections about interior features and maintenance. I always learn something, even on the simpler cars, but especially on the cars like the fully loaded LS 460 I bought in 2015. which had tens of features I’d never encountered before. Just as an example, in my current Highlander Hybrid, without RTFM I would never have learned that (1) an accessory retractable cargo cover was available and (2) there is a purpose-built well for storing it under the cargo floor.

    • 0 avatar

      Excellent advice, Dal. It also helps to look at the various manuals/.pdf/etc. prior to signing the purchase paperwork AND take a pair of coveralls, head covering, gloves, and an OBD II code reader along also. Just because that CEL isn’t lit doesn’t mean that there’s a code set in storage waiting for the requisite time/mileage to pop back in after the happy drive home nor that clump of grease mashed into a shot CV axle through the torn boot starts that wheel clunking and howling…

      • 0 avatar

        I usually inhale the OMs of any vehicle BEFORE purchase. I’m as up-to-snuff as the long-term salesmen at my dealer on a lot of things, much less a fly-by-night green pea.

        I actually demonstrated the HondaLink remote app at my dealer a couple weeks ago! Since that stuff doesn’t break often, the Service department doesn’t know much about it, and the Sales staff doesn’t push it too much. I’ve been told that the Service departments are almost the last to know anything, from new model details to TSBs and the like; that stuff seems to hit the fanboi sites before it makes its way into dealer’s hands.

  • avatar


    This is good behavior, especially in today’s world.

    A car buyer may learn about a timing belt replacement needed (this, a deal-killer for me in buying any vehicle).

    A car buyer may learn that something odd is “maintenance” for an item, because the manufacturer cheaped out, or effed-up, in designing said-item. Example: Replace your brake fluid every 30k miles.

    A new buyer may learn that something odd cannot be maintained normally, like no drain hole for changing transmission fluid. (Lifetime fluid they say… yeah, right. Some companies are famous for saving $0.25 on eliminating drain plugs, or fixing powertrain problems with special fluid; someone gets a promotion for that.)

    Vehicles today are very complicated, and can be too polluted with features, both of which do not serve the customer well.

    Owners manuals are idiotically large and obtuse. Manufacturers do not seem to want them to be read. An owner who does not read/follow the manual, has their product lawsuit dismissed easier.

    • 0 avatar

      I still have somewhere a BMW manual for the e46 written just before “lifetime” nonsense…my favorite saved money was my second SAAB. They saved money on an access door for a fuel pump, so you had to drop the entire tank assembly….

    • 0 avatar

      My 2019 Accord only came with an “Owner’s Guide” that’s maybe half as thick as a typical OM from an ‘80s car; you could get a printed OM free in the first six months of ownership, but the full OM is available online as a PDF. (Don’t remember if the Navigation manual came with it or not, and I’m too lazy to look!

  • avatar

    We are getting to the point of needing buyers to pass a tutorial in order to get their vehicle registered.

  • avatar

    We can’t know for sure how much it affected the results without reviewing the survey response statistics, but the cohort that buys used cars likely has a higher percentage of people who are less well-off financially and less educated than those who buy new cars.

  • avatar

    I probably would have titled this “IIHS ** Says ** …!” IIHS hopes people learn less? Nobody RTFMs now! :-D

  • avatar

    used vehicles often dont have manuals, so if you want to know everything about your used car youre probably going to have to go online

  • avatar

    Why don’t Toyota and Honda, etc make a decent station wagon any more. A SUV is not a wagon.

    • 0 avatar

      “Why don’t Toyota and Honda, etc make a decent station wagon any more. A SUV is not a wagon.” because no one buys them. this shouldn’t need to be explained

  • avatar

    My best buddy bought a year-old M4 back in 2016. A few weeks ago I’m out visiting him and it’s pretty cold outside. I ask him how he likes the heated steering wheel in his car – he looks over with a blank stare before saying “I don’t have a heated steering wheel”. “Uh, yes you do. Reach around the steering column on the left side…” a moment later when he feels the switch, he lights up. “Son of a …!” He had no idea it was there. So it’s not just important safety features 2nd buyers are missing, it’s simple (but useful) stuff like this too.

Read all comments

Back to TopLeave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Recent Comments

  • nrd515: Drive something with the ZF 8 speed. That’s a transmission done right. I don’t see how it could...
  • SPPPP: :) Nice.
  • Steve S.: Those ribbed bumpers are highly sought after by customizers, and could probably sell for a couple hundred...
  • detlump: Please change out that plastic fuel filter ASAP! They are fire hazards. Replace with a steel filter....
  • Frobig: The newest vehicle I owned that had crank windows and no AC was a ’93 Toyota pickup. I don’t...

New Car Research

Get a Free Dealer Quote

Who We Are

  • Adam Tonge
  • Bozi Tatarevic
  • Corey Lewis
  • Jo Borras
  • Mark Baruth
  • Ronnie Schreiber