New car buying - safety question
October 5, 2007 5:46 PM   Subscribe

New car buying filter: We are in the market for a new car and have seen the model we want on a dealers lot, but it lacks one option that I feel is a must - ABS

So are anti-lock brakes a real safety plus or should I get the vehicle I want that doesn't have the ABS? If it makes a difference the make/model is a Chevy Cobalt Coupe and I would prefer to just go into the dealer, go through the hell of dealing with the car buying experience and drive off in the new car without having to go through long drawn out searches or ordering the model from the factory.
posted by 543DoublePlay to Travel & Transportation (13 answers total)
Are they safer than the same car without? Sure. Few people have the ability to drive defensively enough in a sudden situation and will just pound the breaks and say "oh shit". So, with ABS, you'll stop shorter and retain more steering control than you would have otherwise.

Personally, I've had several near misses that would have been actual hits if it weren't for ABS, so I make them and airbags a standard for any car I buy.

If you live in a snowy clime, it can be very useful for not spinning out of control when you press the breaks on an icy/snowy patch.
posted by qwip at 6:00 PM on October 5, 2007

ABS is better to have, for most people. It reduces the tendency to go into a skid in an emergency braking scenario. But it can't prevent all skids, and I believe a careful, alert driver is a bigger factor in whether a car goes out of control or not.

Will your spouse or kids also use the car, and are they less experienced drivers? That would also be a factor, of course.

BTW - what's wrong with ordering and getting exactly what you want? Unless there's a significant price penalty, I prefer to order cars.
posted by Artful Codger at 6:04 PM on October 5, 2007

Get a list of all the Chevy dealers in an area you're reasonably able to travel to and email all of the fleet managers with a description of exactly you want and exactly how much you're willing to pay for it. Complete the deal over email, drive to the dealership, fill out the paperwork, and pick up the car.

The only reasons to go into a dealership are to do a test drive and to pick up the car. Avoid face-to-face discussions of the price and financing at all costs.
posted by mr_roboto at 6:10 PM on October 5, 2007

Best answer: No need to email anyone. Go online. Most dealers have their inventory on line and you can see exactly what you want. If you contact a dealer asking about the specific piece of steel he will not be willing to trade it to another local dealer for a few weeks thinking he has your sale.

Find your car even if it is 100 miles away. Pick the dealer you want to deal with. Go in and tell him this is the easiest sale he will ever make. Tell him exactly what you want and who has it and how much you are willing to pay. Tell him you are willing to walk out with it today. Then deal.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 7:01 PM on October 5, 2007

If you've always relied on ABS, it might be difficult to learn to do without it. If you care about safety, you'd then have to practice sudden stops on various surfaces until you know how to do it.

If not, well, many people manage to get by without it. For me, it was Electronic Brake-force Distribution (EBD) that improved ABS to the level where I'd pay extra for it.

Sure enough, the Cobalt is not exactly a rare automobile. You should be able to find it with exactly the options you want.
posted by sfenders at 7:08 PM on October 5, 2007

Sure -- race cars dont have ABS... someone CAN drive better and safer without ABS.. but for the 99% of us that dont drive for a living.. we need ABS. The impulse is to slam the brakes on. With ABS it is 95% as effective as a perfect braker.

Don't get a car without it if you are used to it.
posted by SirStan at 8:01 PM on October 5, 2007

Yes, you want ABS.
posted by knave at 8:04 PM on October 5, 2007

I'll just throw out there use a unique email address if you follow the suggestions above to email dealers. I used my work email address and two months later I'm still getting emails from various dealers.
posted by Octoparrot at 8:37 PM on October 5, 2007

Best answer: First, on the ABS: if you understand how it works, it can be a boon, but it is not a cure-all. Some folks are so shocked by what ABS feels like when it engages (imagine the pedal shaking like a little jackhammer*) that it distracts them and contributes to an accident; in winter states with wet snow on the ground, locking the wheels and getting snow packed against the leading tread can help slow you down; and if you don't care about control or directional stability, locking all four wheels will always stop the car in the shortest distance; there are even circumstances (black ice, for instance) where there is so little traction that ABS-equipped brakes barely engage (not that non-ABS brakes would be much better, in such a circumstance.) In most situations, though, you want to keep directional control and keeping that control is worth the slightly increased stopping distance. Some people do that with brake pumping, some do it with ABS, and some fail to avoid accidents no matter what kind of brakes they have -- so the important this is that whether you go with ABS or not, learn how to stop your car effectively.

Second, on getting what you want: there's nothing wrong with settling for options other than your first choice, if it's not important to you, but if it is, there are online tools (ass well as the dealer's own tools) that can help you locate the perfectly-equipped car (assuming they built one.) Don't let the dealer tell you otherwise; you can always have the car you want brought from another nearby dealer, or just go there yourself. I've purchased five new cars in my life, and only one was off the dealer's lot. Right now there is a huge glut of cars on the lots at GM, Ford and Chrysler, so you'll never have a better chance to find the car you want, equipped as you like it.

Finally, on getting a Chevrolet Cobalt: there's nothing wrong with the car per se (that I know about), but GM, Ford and Chrysler are all going through significant financial problems right now, and some say bankruptcy is likely for GM in the near future. Not too long ago, Daewoo sold to GM, but they only bought the overseas arm of the company -- so the US arm disappeared, and so did the warranties on the cars they'd sold. Before that happened, I would never have thought such a thing could happen, but it did -- and it could again. Make sure the company you buy your car from will be around for the duration of your warranty.

*I had a friend who used to tell us how great his ABS brakes were, and how they kept the wheels from locking "all the time". I finally took him to a parking lot and had him slam on the brakes at speed, then said "no, REALLY hard" -- and when the ABS engaged on the second run, he actually let off the brakes for a bit and said "what the hell?!?" Turns out he'd never actually engaged he ABS bfore; he'd just driven within the limits of normal traction for his new car, which was much faster than his old one.
posted by davejay at 9:39 PM on October 5, 2007

Every new car I've ever owned I will take out to a parking lot in the winter and try out the brakes, so that I can get a sense of what they will feel like in a panic situation, without actually being in a panic situation.

(also, it's fun).

I would go for the ABS, definitely. Either that, or go for a week-long course breaking at a defense driving school.
posted by gregvr at 4:49 AM on October 6, 2007

davejay: locking all four wheels will always stop the car in the shortest distance

Not true. When you are braking and your wheel is rolling, the surface of the wheel is not moving relative to the road surface, so it is subject to static friction. When the wheel is skidding, it moves relative to the road surface, so it is subject to dynamic friction. Static friction is stronger than dynamic, so you can apply a greater braking force to rolling wheels than you get from them skidding. This (plus the ability to steer) is why you have ABS: to keep your car from skidding and thus give you the greatest possible breaking power. You don't sacrifice braking distance for control.

And my two cents are: get a car with ABS.
posted by ssg at 8:16 AM on October 6, 2007

davejay: with wet snow on the ground, ... locking all four wheels will always stop the car in the shortest distance

ssg: Not true.

Yes, it is true. Maybe not *always*, but usually. I resisted getting ABS for years, because I did a lot of driving on snow and gravel. Although for winter driving, ABS should typically have the advantage on ice, which is probably more common and more dangerous than loose snow for most people. (Good winter tires are more important.)
posted by sfenders at 9:41 AM on October 6, 2007

As long as you're looking for a Cobalt with ABS, make sure it has traction control as well, if you live where there's snow. I had a Cobalt as a company car recently, and it was a nice car.

And no matter what davejay or his friends think, GM isn't going to go bankrupt before your warranty runs out.
posted by rfs at 10:02 PM on October 6, 2007

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