What is Euro NCAP?

Check how well your car will protect you in a crash with the independent Euro NCAP safety score

BuyaCar team
Feb 28, 2019

If you’re looking for a car that’s as safe as possible, then there’s one rating that you need to look for: its Euro NCAP score.

This is the gold standard of car safety: awarded by an independent organisation that’s funded by several governments. It carries out its own crash tests to stringent standards that far exceed the legal minimum, and publishes detailed results alongside videos of the tests.

As well as a simple star rating out of five, Euro NCAP tests also include more detailed scores about how well a car protects adults, children and pedestrians. There’s a separate assessment that shows how well hi-tech safety systems - such as automatic emergency braking - perform.

Since it started in 1997, the group has been credited with pushing car manufacturers to make big improvements to safety. It wasn’t uncommon for cars that went through the first tests in 1997 to score just two - or even one - star, whereas now, a three-star score - using a much tougher test - is seen as poor.


What is Euro NCAP?

It’s a European body, funded by organisations from seven countries, including three from Britain: the Department for Transport, along with two testing firms: Thatcham research and International Consumer Research and Testing.

Randomly chosen cars are crash tested in laboratories across Europe to a common set of standards and then scored according to strict criteria.


Which cars are tested by Euro NCAP?

Euro NCAP says that it chooses the “most popular and interesting models”, so you can expect to find the latest information on a Ford Fiesta, Vauxhall Astra, Nissan Qashqai and BMW 3 Series, for example. You might be waiting for a very long time before you see a safety score for a Ferrari.


Euro NCAP ratings

We highlight the overall star rating awarded to cars tested by Euro NCAP in our buying guides but you can get more details - including a breakdown of the scores described below - on Euro NCAP’s website.

The organisation also publishes videos of the crash tests performed on each car, as well as an annual summary of the safest cars tested, such as the one below from 2016.

Euro NCAP star ratings

Each car is awarded up to five stars. In recent years, it has been virtually impossible to get a full five star rating without advanced technology that helps to avoid crashes.

5 stars Five stars equates to “overall good performance in crash protection. Well equipped with robust crash avoidance technology.”

4 stars Cars must also achieve “overall good performance in crash protection ... additional crash avoidance technology may be present”.

3 stars Occupant protection must be “average to good” but a three star car is likely to lack crash avoidance technology.

2 stars Euro NCAP describes crash protection in a two-star car as “nominal” and that such models are expected to lack crash avoidance technology.

1 star Cars are rarely awarded just one star for “marginal crash protection”. In one case, more than a decade ago Euro NCAP warned of the potential of “life-threatening injury” in a crash that was similar to its tests”. In more recent years, the organisation has re-tested cars that scored well in previous years, showing how far standards have increased. The Fiat Panda was awarded four stars in 2011 but no stars in 2018.


Additional scores   

Euro NCAP adult occupant ratings
Shown as a percentage score

Tests are carried out using a large male dummy and small female dummy to ensure that cars can safely protect passengers of different heights and weights.

Readings are taken from front, side and rear crash tests to to calculate how well the dummies are protected, and whether any of the forces involved could cause injuries.

Euro NCAP child occupant ratings
Shown as a percentage score

These tests involve checking how well different child seats fit in each car, and how well children are protected in front and side impacts.

Until 2016, these tests were carried out using dummies to represent an 18-month-old baby and three-year-old child.

Since then, those have been replaced with dummies representing a six-year-old and ten-year-old, placed on a booster seat or cushion, rather than a child seat.

Euro NCAP pedestrian protection ratings
Shown as a percentage score

Tests calculate how severely injured a pedestrian would be if they were hit at around 25mph. Crash tests measure the force with which a pedestrian’s head, upper leg and lower leg would be hit. Manufacturers have adapted their cars to be more pedestrian friendly by designing higher bonnets, that reduce the chances of a head hitting the engine below, as well as devices such as under-bonnet airbags. Cars score more highly if they have an automatic emergency braking system that can detect people.

Euro NCAP safety assist systems
Shown as a percentage score

From the annoying beeps that remind you to wear your seatbelt to advanced braking systems that can prevent collisions at high speeds - these features are tested, and all help to boost a car’s safety assist rating.



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