Are we crazy to drive our two kids around in a 1984 Buick LeSabre?
February 16, 2010 7:25 AM   Subscribe

My husband and I have two older cars ('84 and '94). Are the safety features in newer cars so far superior that it's irresponsible to drive children around in older cars if you can afford to upgrade?

My husband inherited his grandmothers 1984 Buick LeSabre in 2001 and drives it to work every day. He also does most of the transportation of our two kids (3 & 5). The commute isn’t long (10 miles roundtrip) and is typically on surface streets, not the highway. Both kids are always strapped into their car seats but we don’t have the LATCH system, so the seats are held in place with the original seatbelts from 1984. We are in the Northeast, so snow/weather can be an issue.

I looked at a previous Mefi-question about older car safety but it didn't have much in the way of specifics and I need some hard data to convince my husband that we should replace his car. On the other hand, if it's not way more dangerous than I love not having a car payment.
posted by victoriab to Travel & Transportation (34 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Absolutely, yes, and this video illustrates why. There're more than just features at play - modern cars are designed to distribute impact loads away from the passengers in far, far more sophisticated ways than most lay people can comprehend. The safest 25-year-old car is still far, far more dangerous to its occupants than the worst new car.
posted by TheNewWazoo at 7:28 AM on February 16, 2010

Here's another great (though not quite as relevant) video.
posted by TheNewWazoo at 7:30 AM on February 16, 2010

Is it irresponsible? That's hard to say. Is it more dangerous? Definitely. A new car with anti-lock breaks, shoulder harnesses, emergency interior trunk latches, air bags, OnStar, all-wheel-drive, traction control is definitely safer than a car from the '80's. Almost everything in cars today has been upgraded with an eye to safety - even the lights. I say that because I own a car from the 80's, but I drive it for fun, not basic transportation. I know what it doesn't have. I know what my 2006 car does have.
posted by clarkstonian at 7:33 AM on February 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

It's incredibly more dangerous. Since the 1979 automotive-related deaths have dropped by a staggering 35%. The actual number nearly always hovers around ~47,000, but our population continues to grow (this is in the US.) Sorry, but if you can afford it, you really, really owe it to your children to buy a newer car. Buy it used if you want, but get something with anti-lock brakes, traction control, inertial-reel seatbelts, etc.

At this point, you're essentially putting yourselves in danger because it's cheaper. Think about that.

As for hard data, does Wikipedia count? Otherwise, check out FARS and NHSTA.
posted by InsanePenguin at 7:47 AM on February 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

I was just thinking on this, considering a vintage VW air-cooled Double Cab as a project car. Vehicles older than the early '90s need to be looked at as inherently dangerous, like a motorcycle or dune-buggy. As a fun project, and something to tootle around town or firetrails with, sure. Absolutely not for taking the kids to school or on extended road-trips.

Airbags and shoulder-harnesses and crumple zones - these will keep you alive in wrecks at highway speeds (40mph+). Even the most basic beater from 2000 will be designed to keep you alive short of anything but the most horrific sorts of wrecks, where a car from the '60s would absolutely kill you with what looks like a minor accident to modern eyes.

Big, massive cars that could shrug off impacts with sheer inertia are sort of OK, but it's a gamble. I was rear-ended by a late model Nissan Maxima in my old '69 Caddy. I felt a small bump, but heard a tremendous crash. The Nissan was totalled, and the guy inside pretty beat up (always wear your seatbelt! Even with airbags!) The Caddy's trunk lid and bumper each needed a small dent pulled. But I would be smushed straight up if the Caddy ever rolled over.

The '94, depending on make and model, may be ok. (Does it have airbags? Have the airbags been inspected by a mechanic lately?), but knowing the quality standards cars had in the '80s, it's time to retire it - trade it in, or tansfer it from "transportation" to "hobby" status.
posted by Slap*Happy at 7:55 AM on February 16, 2010

Yes, you are crazy. I wouldn't drive myself around in a car from 1984, much less my non-existent children. Airbags and ESC in particular are two huge safety improvements. According to IIHS 1/3 of fatal accidents could be prevented with ESC. In frontal crashes, frontal airbags reduce driver fatalities by 29 percent and fatalities of right front passengers aged 13 and older by 32 percent .
posted by phoenixy at 8:10 AM on February 16, 2010

I work for an insurance company. Some of these things we care about, some we don't.

Airbags are a pretty big deal, but not for people in the back seats, especially kids in car seats. But note that while you can buy a new car without anti-lock brakes, you can't buy a car without airbags. This ought to say something about their relative importance.

This is because the value of anti-lock brakes are kind of equivocal. Their utility is not entirely conclusive, and possibility mitigated by other factors. But most people rarely use their brakes hard enough for the ABS to kick in--even when they hit something--so their safety value isn't as great as for airbags. As a result, a lot of companies give a little bonus for them, but it's generally only a point or two.

But something else to consider: most insurance companies don't even really consider the safety factors of cars older than 1980. They're lumpted together as an inherently higher risk. So a '84 is starting to get a little borderline.
posted by valkyryn at 8:12 AM on February 16, 2010

Best answer: My husband inherited his grandmothers 1984 Buick LeSabre

What you also need to understand is that a 1984 Buick Sabre was already old in terms of car design when it was new. They are horrific cars, dynamically and in primary and secondary safety, and I'd say "Hell yes!" to a question about a 1984 Volvo (arguably the safest car of the era) versus a modern one. So being as the Sabre is several years less capable then the Volvo, I'd move to 'less than responsible'.

Your car is very, very poorly designed compared to even your 10 year newer car. Legislative pressure (rather than selling points) regarding safety have only relatively recently come into effect (when you heard about it is probably 5 years before car design effectively combatted the issues due to model cycle times), so things you were worrying about in 1984?

When will a CD player fit in my car?

See the issue? Any car comparable pre-1995 is less safe than any post. Add 5 year increments (or so) and the same will be true. A 25 year old car (and not a very good one at that) is crazy to claim to be safe.

As to specifics:
Even though your kids are strapped into their seats, crash survival is all about reducing the crash impulse (peak decelleration of the occupants). Being effectively and efficiently strapped to a poorly performing, 1984 brick of a vehicle is not as effective as being securely strapped to a vehicle with complex crumple zones designed to reduce any possible chance of a g-spike that would kill someone. Car seats - even good quality ones - cannot make up for the limitations of our vehicle to absorb the impact. Not to mention that kids are far less able to withstand these g-spikes than adults.

The car is, if you judge it against a modern crash model for legislation, a dangerous dinosaur. If the safety of your kids is the metric by which you are judging this decision, then this is less than a no-brainer. Change the car.

Big, massive cars that could shrug off impacts with sheer inertia are sort of OK, but it's a gamble.

This is a severe understatement. The gamble is underplayed - you need to always have your accident with a vehicle with less momentum than you to play this gamble, and that is not at all reliable. Big cars survive accidents better than small cars. This does not in any way directly relate to "the occupants of big cars survive accidents better". It depends on each individual accident.
posted by Brockles at 8:15 AM on February 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thank you for the great input and TheNewWazoos video was sobering. I see all these small cars zipping around and it's hard to believe they would survive an impact with the Buick. I guess the point is that the car itself might not survive but the people inside would survive much better.

My car is a '94 Audi station wagon, so it has airbags in the front but I'm not sure about the other safety features that InsanePenguin mentions. Anyway, this is all good ammunition and I really appreciate the comments...keep 'em coming.
posted by victoriab at 8:23 AM on February 16, 2010

This is because the value of anti-lock brakes are kind of equivocal. Their utility is not entirely conclusive,

Complete rubbish. Did you even read the article you linked to? That is utterly and ridiculously erroneous advice. If you have ABS you may not NEED your airbags in a lot of cases. You are also completely ignorant of the concept of Primary and Secondary safety - Primary: the ability to avoid an accident. Secondary: the ability to survive an accident that has occurred. The two features are incomparable in terms of relative worth.

Besides, using insurance statistics and weighting to judge safety is ridiculous. Insurance premiums are weighted based on likelihood of being in a crash, not causing it. It is not, by any means, a sensible metric by which to judge the merits of vehicle safety.
posted by Brockles at 8:24 AM on February 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Dasein, thanks so much for the specific car recommendations and the top safety list link. The Mazda5, Toyota Rav4 and Honda CR-V are cars I've been considering but I noticed that none of them were on the top safety list. I find the 3rd row option appealing but the pricing/safety matrix might make me rethink this preference and just go with a more safe car at a price we're comfortable paying. Subaru has been a longtime favorite of my husband so that might help with the decision.
posted by victoriab at 8:34 AM on February 16, 2010

as is electronic stability control, BTW.

Which is different entirely from traction control FWIW, victoria. I'll never buy another car without stability control (which helps you maintain intended direction as well as reducing chance of rollover by actively braking on the wheels that need it in a slide,) but I can live without traction control on anything that I don't intend to take off-road. (Traction control just levers power to different wheels to get the most, you guessed it, traction.)

Also, since you're in a snow-prone area, you should know that if you're stuck in the snow say, trying to get out a parked spot, try turning off the stability control. That'll let your wheels spin to find ground instead of braking on them when the computer senses you're sliding. Irritating, that.
posted by InsanePenguin at 8:48 AM on February 16, 2010

Subaru's are phenomenal, but I thought I might pimp the Kia Soul while I'm here. Significantly cheaper if you were to buy a brand-new car, and it has great safety ratings.
posted by InsanePenguin at 8:50 AM on February 16, 2010

Also, the Kia Soul is a Top Safety Pick by the IIHS and has great NHTSA ratings as well.
posted by InsanePenguin at 8:59 AM on February 16, 2010

And the Kia Soul has Electronic Stability Control. It has truly proven itself to be a vehicle worthy of snow in NJ with all the storms we've been getting. I only got stuck once and that was in a foot of unplowed snow. I'm willing to bet that with snow tires or even chains I would have been fine, I just didn't purchase them because I don't think anyone thought NJ would get this kind of snow this winter and I just bought my Soul in August.
posted by InsanePenguin at 9:01 AM on February 16, 2010

Wanted to chime in with an alternative view point here, but first totally agree with the above, modern cars are so much better built, better handling and can handle crashes so much better there really is no comparision.

The most important safety feature in any car is the driver. Or rather the skill and attention of the driver. The most survivalable crash is the one that doesn't happen, which means when you are driving that is all you are doing. I ride a motorcycle a lot for daily transportation and have learned to pay attention, a lot, or I would be dead. So an investment in skill could pay dividends in a big way for anyone concerned about safety and staying alive on the roads.

As far as technical stuff that really matters-ABS brakes on my motorcycle have kept me upright and in control several times, best feature ever. A good set of tires and overall good mechanical condition of the car is really important, something critical breaks and you are off the road, or doing something else unexpected. I am somewhat skeptical about stability control, but if you are not trained/experienced in driving a car that is on the edge of losing control it is probably a really good thing. Crumple zones/airbags and the like are good things, but if they come into use you have already failed. That being said life happens and sometimes you can't avoid it so a useful thing.

In the end, the 90's audi is probably not a bad car at all, although i shudder at the possible maintenance costs. The 84 le sabre wasn't a good car that day it rolled off the line as far as handling and build quality goes. If you can, replace it. I would totally agree with insanepenguin (not something i thought i would ever say) about the Kia Soul-great car for the money and Kias seem to be really well built little economy cars. I would rate them at least as good as honda was 10 years ago.
posted by bartonlong at 9:09 AM on February 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: '94 Audi? Safe enough. '84 domestic car of any sort? Personally, I'd dump it.

Here is a graph that shows fatality rates per 100 million miles traveled. It's dropped from around 2 to 1.2 since '84. This Australian site has model-by-model rankings. Cars from the 80's don't get rated well.

Causes of the huge decline in fatality rates? Seat belt compliance, drunk driving reductions, unibody construction (vs body-on-frame), better road design and traffic engineering, airbags, antilock/stronger/better brakes, tire technology, stability controls of all types, vastly improved suspension design, transition to mostly front- or all-wheel-drive cars, improvements in materials (higher strength steel, cheaper aluminum), computer with the balls to run huge finite element analyses during the design process, increased auto safety standards and testing, etc. Everything has gotten safer, but it's notoriously difficult to suss out all the factors that go into auto safety. Don't read too much into any one thing.

A lot of those safety improvements are achievable with your old car. Want to drop your odds of dying in an accident? Buckle up, pay attention, don't drink, turn off the cell phone, put good tires on your car, limit your exposure to high speed 2 lane roads and make sure it's in good shape. If you do all those things you're probably going to be looking at "average" odds of dying in an accident even in an old car. That's still not great. In any given year, you're looking at a 1:6000 chance of dying.

I own a '91 BMW and a '99 Passat. Prior to the '91 BMW, I had an '88 BMW. All were pretty state of the art in their days. Probably a generation beyond American and Japanese cars (that euro/jap/usa gap is gone today, FWIW). I've done enough of my own car repairs to be familiar with how they're put together and the design differences among them are incredible.

The older BMW was essentially a gorgeous tin can. The roof support pillars were about as big around as four fingers and there wasn't much attention paid to crumple zones. I loved it. But, I've seen pictures of them after rear-impact accidents, and when I had a kid I couldn't stomach putting them in the back seat regularly. They basically fold in half when hit.

The middle car is starting to have thicker columns supporting the roof, an airbag, a beefier support behind the bumper and real crumple zones. It's vastly safer. Safe enough that we take family trips in it and I don't worry too much. The pleasure of driving it offsets the increased risk for me. I'm a little more attentive, but not paranoid.

The newest car is a quantum leap. HUGE braces to transmit forces laterally across the car in offset frontal impacts. The roof is essentially a gigantic high strength steel arch that channels impact forces from front to back. The bolts that hold structural members together are bigger and stronger. The beams inside the door are twice as large as the older car had. The rake of the windshield would deflect a lot of stuff (deer, errant 2x4's, etc). The door comes up higher on your body and the window openings are smaller. There are 4 airbags. It's a tank, and it's already more than 10 years old. New cars are yet another step ahead in terms of technology.

I don't think it's necessarily irresponsible to drive an older car if you do it carefully. You're _definitely_ at a significantly increased risk of dying, but it might be better to use that $300/month savings for education or healthier food. Hamburgers and ignorance reduce life expectancy more than cars.
posted by paanta at 9:14 AM on February 16, 2010 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Dasein - hmmm, well I'm glad I'm not too attached to any of those models because if I'm going to get a new (or newer) car than safety is really the #1 issue. I'm shocked that they don't all do well on the rear impact test...I agree that it's a critical flaw since it's a pretty common accident. I'd really like a good roof crush score since I know someone who was directly impacted by this issue.

Insane Penguin - thanks for putting the Soul on my radar. I hadn't even given it a look because I know nothing about Kias and don't know anyone that owns one. Even looking at Hyundais was a big step outside my comfort zone but I'm trying to open my heart (and driveway) to all safe and affordable brands.
posted by victoriab at 9:21 AM on February 16, 2010

At the risk of being overbearing (can you tell I adore my car?,) the Soul also scored phenomenally on rear-impacts.

Totally agree with you about not looking at Hyundais and Kias, but in recent years they've come to the head of the pack in terms of safety and affordability. In any case, if you couldn't sell your husband on a Kia, Subaru's are great cars. If I could have afforded one that came with all the fancy bells and whistles my Soul has, I would have sprung for an Impreza. Financial sense won out the day, though!
posted by InsanePenguin at 9:26 AM on February 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

Yes, I read the article.

Yes, I understand the difference between primary and secondary safety. I work in insurance. We care both about avoiding accidents and minimizing damages.

No, what I said isn't bullshit.

There's data to suggest that ABS is worth having. But 1) it isn't good enough for the NHTSA to have mandated it the way they have for airbags, and 2) there is data to suggest that the benefits doesn't quite live up to the hype. Lots of accidents occur without ABS ever kicking in, and as getting hit isn't actually something you have any control over, ABS is not nearly as relevant as airbags, which go of regardless of how the accident happens, to that very significant risk exposure.

Worry about not having airbags. ABS is nice, but if that's the only thing "wrong" with the car, you should be okay.
posted by valkyryn at 9:55 AM on February 16, 2010

The technological advances, such as airbags, ESC, and others are hugely important. But what really sticks out to me is the structural engineering of vehicles nowadays. Specifically, crumple zones. When you see wrecked vehicles, some of them may be obliterated, but when you look, there is little if any damage to the passenger compartment. The front and the rear of the vehicle is designed to take the punishment. This is hugely important. An '84 Buick is not going to do very well in this area, especially compared to a newer vehicle. Look up the IHS 50th anniversary crash test video for an even more dramatic demonstration.
posted by azpenguin at 10:16 AM on February 16, 2010

Anecdotally, my ABS has saved me from needing my airbags twice. Both times were of the "brake a little - not enough. A little harder - not enough. Oh shit HARD! - not enough. Steer around/off to the shoulder with ABS pounding away" variety. One of them I steered between the cars in adjacent lanes, ending up the lead car. I'm pretty sure I could not have pulled that off without ABS.

I don't know if my airbags even work (I assume they do) and I like to keep it that way.
posted by ctmf at 11:46 AM on February 16, 2010

Lots of great advice in this thread already, but I just wanted to mention that LATCH is a convenience and not actually a safety upgrade - assuming you have modern seatbelts (not sure that 1980s era seatbelts are as good as modern ones). A seatbelt install of a car seat on a modern car is equally safe and secure as a LATCH install, its just that LATCH is easier. Also note that LATCH installs have a max weight, usually of 40lbs, so once your kid is a large toddler, you will need to switch to a seatbelt install anyway.

A good resource for car seat info and car child safety info is There are a myriad of sub-forums on every imaginable topic related to your question, you should look at the Car Safety forum in particular.
posted by Joh at 11:58 AM on February 16, 2010

There's data to suggest that ABS is worth having. But 1) it isn't good enough for the NHTSA to have mandated it the way they have for airbags, and 2) there is data to suggest that the benefits doesn't quite live up to the hype.

No, there is data to suggest that people don't know how to use their cars properly. This is not any fault, nor any statement of value, of the ABS system but a people problem - just as much as total lack of understanding of energy and momentum (ie tailgating) is. Your logic is equivalent to searching for accidents where people didn't even touch the brake, then arguing that brakes at all don't make cars safer, because sometimes people don't use them. It's ridiculous. A system that is being ineffectively used does not become redundant due to operator error.

And I work in Insurance is the issue for your skewed perspective. There is no data for 'number of cars that avoided an accident and why' to use to establish your viewpoint. There is no way to track "near misses where everyone was alright", nor any way to collate the data beyond utterly useless anecdotal advice. The only data is for the number of cars that do have ABS yet have crashed; these accidents are then analysed for why a car that should have been able to avoid a crash didn't do so - the conclusion is operator error, yet you have interpreted that as "Well, no point having ABS, then".

The problem you are seeing, which the Insurance industry to some point (but not sufficiently) address is that driver training needs to be higher and rewarded. If driver standards were better, ABS would be (by your logic) essential as all people would use it properly. If the point of your post (as of someone else above) would be "you need to learn to use your car properly with better training" then you'd be right. To conclude from that data that ABS may not be worth having is ridiculous and needs addressing here, as it is dangerous and ill-advised veiwpoint. ABS is not the problem, so to claim that it isn't worth having is ridiculous and yes, it is a Bullshit statement.
posted by Brockles at 4:29 PM on February 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

I agree, you don't need LATCH, however cars with LATCH also come with tether anchors and it is absolutely required to tether your carseats otherwise they are completely unsafe.
posted by crazycanuck at 8:41 PM on February 16, 2010

We recently did the search for a new car thing, and found a subscription to Consumer Reports to be worth its weight in gold for comparing different models. They have a website with comprehensive info about the models, including used cars going back something like ten or fifteen years. Safety info, stats, little essays about various features, etc.

If you're going to buy, read the Confessions of a Car Salesman essay for some sales tactics to be wary of.

(Also - on a personal note, we were buying because we had an accident. The car was totalled, but we were both unhurt. Let me tell you, crumple zones are where it's at.)
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:18 PM on February 16, 2010

Response by poster: Joh - Thanks so much for the info about LATCH. I didn't realize that it wasn't a safety feature. Crazycanuck's comment about tether anchors made me wonder if this is what I was thinking of (versus LATCH). I know we don't have either but I know people that have had their older cars retrofitted in some way for car seat attachment.

Paaneta/Bartonlong - The good news is that we're both very safe drivers. No accidents (except the odd person sliding into our back bumpers on occasion and leaving no damage to speak of), no traffic tickets and a generally good awareness of what other drivers are doing around us. My issues revolve more around the fear of an odd random incident of someone running a red light versus us going 90 miles an hour on the highway.

LobsterMitten - I am an avid reader of Consumer Reports and think that this is really what got me thinking about the differences in the safety equipment of our current cars and new/used cars. I'm glad you guys weren't hurt in the accident and would love to know what you ended up buying?

Thanks again for all the great input. It caused a pretty heated discussion on the homefront and will hopefully bring about a resolution that makes everyone equally happy/unhappy (& safe).
posted by victoriab at 6:56 AM on February 17, 2010

Response by poster: Dasein, thank you so much for clarifying this issue. I had come away with exactly the wrong conclusion you mentioned.
posted by victoriab at 7:49 AM on February 17, 2010

Yes, Dasein's point about the crash ratings is a very good one. We ended up getting a small car (an '06 Honda Civic) because we were looking for reliability, fuel efficiency, and the most modern/airbaggy etc car we could afford for a pretty low budget. In our price range, there was no chance of getting stability control, though there were some eg '04 cars that had all-wheel drive which we were considering. The weight of the all-wheel drive system kills the fuel economy, and would have put us into an older car with fewer airbags/etc, so we decided to go with the smaller, fuel-efficient, slightly newer car. I am not completely convinced we made the right tradeoff between cost/fuel efficiency and safety, mainly because of the weight issue that Dasein mentions -- if we had kids, we would probably have chosen differently.
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:41 AM on February 17, 2010

Brockles, for someone who takes such an adamant position based on a number of rather important factual assumptions... you're pretty thin on actual facts.
posted by valkyryn at 10:59 AM on February 17, 2010

Edmunds has some useful stuff - notably, "True Cost to Own" ratings which include some info on maintenance costs for different models, what insurance companies will charge you to insure the car, fuel efficiency, etc. If you're thinking about buying, it's another site that's worth exploring.

Another interesting chart is Insurance losses by make and model, which may give some indication of how the crash test results play out in the real world. (Note, of course, that a sports car might have more crash losses because people drive it crazily, where a minivan might have fewer because people drive it slowly - so the losses on different models might not reflect the risks for YOU in driving that car)
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:02 AM on February 17, 2010

Brockles, for someone who takes such an adamant position based on a number of rather important factual assumptions... you're pretty thin on actual facts.

The point I was making is that there are no facts to support the assertion that ABS is not as valuable a contributor to the safety of a vehicle as airbags are - there is no data that can be used to compare them, so to suggest that the usefulness of ABS is marginalised is ridiculous.

ABS is a great advantage for the skilled or unskilled driver. This has been proven time and time again. Tens, maybe even hundreds, of safety surveys showing hugely reduced braking distances have been produced, especially for the untrained average driver. So there are an enormous amount of facts to support the position that ABS is a 'very good thing' tm.

There is no data set available to compare which is the safer - airbags or ABS - because not only are they made for completely different situations (ABS: controllability and avoidance of an incident while the car is moving vs Airbags: Ability to protect the occupant from sudden decelleration and distortion of the vehicle during an impact) but it is impossible to collect data from accidents to conclusively prove any such claim as was being made because the cars that avoided them are nowhere to be seen - they went home safely. They carried on driving and looked in their mirror and sighed in relief at the mess. No-one recorded their g-, brake and steering traces to establish how they avoided the accident and whether or not ABS helped in that particular instance.

There is no data for "how well a car avoided an accident and how much of that was due to the ABS". There is no dataset to be able to conclude any relative worth of the two systems. It simply doesn't exist, therefore you cannot make that conclusion. ABS makes a car safer - full stop. Any suggestion otherwise is idiotic.

Besides, using the scaling of an insurance company - which has the sole purpose of saving money by reducing the likelihood of a large payment, and nothing at all to do with safety - can only allow you to perhaps judge the likelihood of an expensive accident. Airbags reduce personal injury - claims for which are far, far in excess of that required to fix a car. No wonder it's rated higher then ABS. In Insurance monetary terms, they don''t give a crap if you crash you car - that's only a 20-30K payment or so- but if you get massive hospital bills? NOW we're talking some hurt for our profit! They could be an order of magnitude higher in cost. Best reward airbags, I reckons!

(Yes, ABS has limitations on gravel and deep snow (not allowing the wheels to lock and 'shovel' to stop for instance) but the vast, vast majority of driving is not done in deep snow or gravel so these are edge cases. They also only really affect the car during the last 10-15% of braking (the actual coming to a stop bit). It's a hugely edge case for the average driver.
posted by Brockles at 4:29 PM on February 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

You also can't think about this as though your 1984 vehicle has been kept in a time capsule for the past 26 years, either. It's been out in the world deteriorating. While considering the fact that the safety features aren't as advanced as a new vehicle, think about all the places under the car that you can't see where the frame and body are so corroded that you can poke a screwdriver through it.

Having typed that, it sounds really dramatic and dire, but seriously, corrosion and deterioration are legitimate concerns when discussing the safety of older vehicles. I failed a 1991 Ford Escort for PA safety inspection recently because the body and frame were falling apart. I could poke my finger through the floor from underneath the car. One good pothole and some major structure of the vehicle could have failed.
As a professional automotive technician working in the northeast US, I see many cars that have spent their life exposed to snow, salt, and bad weather. I'd be willing to bet that your 84 Buick is, no offense intended, a clapped-out, unsafe, rust bucket. Please, get something safer than that to transport your kids in. The last 1994 Buick that I saw was in terrible shape and I can only imagine what an 84 would be like at this point. It's harsh, but in no way a judgment on you, but I would feel unsafe driving an 84 LeSabre to a junkyard, let alone 10 miles every day.

A car made in the past 10 years is likely to be substantially more INTACT in addition to having been made with better safety features.

Recently, I owned a 1984 Mercedes 300SD in addition to my 2006 Mazda3. In size, weight, and scale, the Mercedes was comparable to a locomotive while the Mazda, comparatively, is more like a go-kart. Despite the fact that driving the Mercedes felt kind of like driving a tank, it felt very unsafe compared to the Mazda. I had many chances to compare them back to back, park one, hop into the other. The improvements in handling and braking (combined with the lack of frightening and structural creaks and rattles) clearly illustrated the benefits of having a newer car. The Mercedes, in its day, had a much higher build quality than most GM cars and 26 years later, it was a huge piece of shit. Your Buick probably is, too. If it came into my shop for inspection, I'm sure I could find a dozen reasons to take it off the road.

I really urge you to take structural integrity into consideration when determining the safety value of a new vehicle.

Of course, the mechanic who's been looking after your car knows more about it than I do and is the right person to ask about how intact it is. So take it from them and not from me.
posted by Jon-o at 5:06 PM on February 17, 2010

Response by poster: Dasein, I love that you're still posting in this thread because we still haven't replaced either of our cars. When one of them explodes next weekend and we have 24 hours to go buy a replacement, it's this thread (and your comments in particular) that I'll be reviewing to help make our decision. Thank you.
posted by victoriab at 7:36 AM on September 13, 2010

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