What's the safest car for Sheryl's mom? Tom and Ray review some five-star cars.

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Aug 01, 2006

Dear Tom and Ray:

My mother was in a single-car accident in a Buick Century that happened because she passed out. She had never been in an accident before and is not given to passing out. She hit the beginning of a guardrail. The rail hit the engine, proceeded through the glove compartment, passenger seat, back seat and out the trunk. She was blocked from exiting the driver-side door because of a large highway sign and was taken out of the car through the roof. She sustained only knee abrasions from hitting the dashboard. Needless to say, she was a very fortunate woman. She did not realize how fortunate she was until she saw pictures of the wreck. Now she needs a car. She has always loved the PT Cruiser. I am sure no car could have protected her from this kind of accident, but just how safe is the Cruiser? I would love to see her get her PT Cruiser, but I don't want to encourage her if it has a bad record. Thanks. -- Sheryl

TOM: Well, we looked up the government crash-test rating for the "Guardrail Piercing Through the Entire Car" test, and for some reason, there are no results listed. I guess even the crash-test dummies were unresponsive after that one.

RAY: You're right that no car is going to save you if a guardrail bisects it at 60 mph. And we certainly hope that your mom is looking into what caused her to pass out -- that's more important than which car she gets.

TOM: But when considering her next car, you want to look at how a car performs in more common types of accidents -- front-end, offset and side collisions.

RAY: The Chrysler PT Cruiser's ratings in those categories are good, but not great. Government crash tests (at safercar.gov) give the PT Cruiser with side air bags four out of five stars.

TOM: That might sound good, but there are a lot of cars that get five stars. And we recommend that people choose five-star performers whenever possible.

RAY: If you want a vehicle that's similar to the PT Cruiser but gets five-star ratings, have your mom take a look at the Chevy HHR. It's in the same general class as the PT Cruiser -- that is, an economy car with cool, retro styling and a very flexible interior. Chevy says the styling of the HHR was inspired by the 1949 Chevy Suburban. We'd say it was also inspired by the PT Cruiser's sales reports.

TOM: But your mom might love it. There's a lot to like. It's comfortable (it has a high roof and nice, upright seating position), economical (with a choice of four-cylinder engines and mileage in the mid-20s), reasonably safe (once you pay for the optional anti-lock brakes and side-curtain airbags) and stylish. We'd feel even better if we saw electronic stability control in this car, but I guess you can't have everything.

RAY: And interestingly, it's not that expensive. The HHR starts at around $16,000 and goes out the door fairly loaded in the low $20,000s. That's important, because you don't want your mother to see the sticker price and pass out again, Sheryl.

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