Used Car Buyers Are More Ignorant Of Vehicle Safety Features

Secondhand car owners also had less trust in their vehicle’s safety features.

The semiconductor chip crisis has put massive pressure on consumers all across the US. The resultant vehicle shortage has seen greedy dealers inflate their prices, leading many to look at the cheaper secondhand market – although used car pricing has been affected, too. As a result, the most important things for cash-strapped consumers looking for a car are value for money, gas mileage, and reliability. But what about safety?

According to a recent IIHS study, certain safety systems are of less interest. The organization recently discovered that used car buyers are far less likely to know about advanced driver assistance systems on their vehicles than their new car buying counterparts. “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,” said the author of the study, Ian Reagan.


Anyone who has driven a Super Cruise-equipped Cadillac Escalade or, indeed, any vehicle fitted with some kind of driver assistance system knows how beneficial they can be in day-to-day driving. Research from the IIHS supports this, with its figures showing automated emergency braking reduces police-reported front-to-rear crashes by 50%. Similarly, blind-spot warning reduces lane-change incidents by 14%. But the organization notes that not all drivers choose to use this life-saving technology.

To find out why new and used car buyers differ when it comes to safety technology, the IIHS authorized a survey of more than 750 drivers who owned 2016-2019 vehicles equipped with various driver assistance features as standard. This included 326 people who bought their vehicles used and 402 who bought their vehicles new.

2014-2016 Buick LaCrosse Blind Spot DetectionBuick
2016-2018 Acura ILX Lane Assist SwitchAcura

The survey found a gap between the two groups when it came to whether they knew their vehicles were equipped with certain safety technologies. 84% of new car buying respondents knew their cars were equipped with blind-spot monitoring, compared to just 72% of used car buyers. Interestingly, only 77% of new car owners could describe what the system actually does, but they still scored better than used car buyers, at 66%.

The IIHS also discovered that among buyers who were aware of their vehicle systems, new car buyers had higher levels of trust in the features than those who purchased secondhand vehicles. This could, perhaps, boil down to the fact that 95% of new car buyers purchased their vehicles from a dealer specializing in the brand they purchased, compared with just 74% for used car buyers. This could point to salespeople being able to better explain the specific driver assistance features of the cars they sell, compared to used car salespeople who generally sell more than one make of vehicle.

2007-2010 Mercedes-Benz CL-Class Adaptive Cruise Control Radar (Distronic Plus)Daimler AG
2017-2022 Buick Encore Blind Spot SensorBuick

The IIHS says the results show that both buyers of new and secondhand cars need better information about the driver assistance technology their vehicles are equipped with. The organization notes that modern infotainment systems can be used to do this, alerting drivers to their safety features, via a short video clip. “There’s a real opportunity here to think beyond the old paradigm of showroom and owner’s manual,” says Reagan.

Previously, the organization has criticized pedestrian detection for not being effective enough on poorly-lit roads, finding that while the technology is beneficial at lower speeds and in ideal lighting conditions, there was no difference in the odds of a nighttime pedestrian crash. The safety tech available in new cars has saved countless lives, but it’s also making many drivers reliant on technology. The AAA’s recent foray into driver-monitoring systems showed leniency on the system’s part; a worrying result as commuters think they can rely on tech. Driver assistance systems are ideally used in combination with a driver’s best safety feature: concentration.

American Automobile Association / Brion Lee

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