Q: Where do you get the vehicles you crash test and who pays for them?

A: We buy the vehicles we test from dealers just like an ordinary consumer. If the test isn't part of our regular schedule but was specially requested by the manufacturer, then the manufacturer reimburses us. Otherwise, it's paid for out of our crash testing budget.

Q: Your ratings sometimes indicate that a rating applies only to a vehicle built after a certain date because of a design change in the middle of the model year. Yet dealers and the vehicle manufacturers themselves often don't know about the change or acknowledge it. How can I be sure whether a particular vehicle includes the change?

A: Information about such changes in the middle of a model year often doesn't filter down to the dealer level or to the automaker's public relations employees. But Institute engineers have verified these changes with company engineers. You can tell when a specific vehicle was manufactured by looking at the certification label typically affixed to the car on or near the driver door.

Q: How can I determine the model year of a vehicle so that I can look up the correct set of ratings?

A: A vehicle's model year is coded into the 17-digit Vehicle Identification Number (VIN), which has a standardized format across all manufacturers as required by federal regulation. The 10th character represents the model year and is coded as follows:

VIN 10th character Model year VIN 10th character Model year VIN 10th character Model year
W 1998 8 2008 J 2018
X 1999 9 2009 K 2019
Y 2000 A
2010 L 2020
1 2001 B 2011 M 2021
2 2002 C 2012 N 2022
3 2003 D 2013 P 2023
4 2004 E 2014 R 2024
5 2005 F 2015 S 2025
6 2006 G 2016 T 2026
7 2007 H 2017 V 2027

For example, the VIN of the 2014 Subaru Impreza used in the IIHS small overlap front test is JF1GPAA63EH203000. The 10th character is E, representing the 2014 model year.

The VIN can be found in three locations:

  • on the price/fuel economy data window sticker affixed to new vehicles (This sticker also clearly displays the model year.)
  • on the official VIN plate, which is mounted to the dashboard and can be seen by looking through the windshield in the lower driver side corner
  • on the manufacturer's certification label which, by regulation, must be permanently affixed on the driver door jamb or on the inside edge of the driver door (This label also displays the month and year of manufacture, which is distinct from the model year, as well as a statement certifying that the vehicle meets all applicable federal safety, emissions and antitheft standards in effect on that date.)

Manufacturers can begin using the next model year as early as Jan. 2, though many don't make the switch until much later. For example, automakers were allowed to produce 2015 vehicles as of Jan. 2, 2014.

Q: Where can I find head restraint ratings for older models?

A: Our web site lists dynamic and geometric ratings for head restraint/seat combinations in more recent models. Geometric ratings for older vehicles dating back to the 1995 model year can be found here.

Q: Do you take recalls into account in your safety ratings?

A: If a vehicle model has been subject to recalls, this doesn't affect its crash test ratings. However, a rating or Top Safety Pick designation only applies to those individual vehicles that have received the required repairs associated with any recalls.

Q: What happens to the vehicles after you test them?

A: Vehicles subjected to high-speed crash tests at the Institute's Vehicle Research Center are essentially unrepairable. These cars are issued nonrepairable certificates and sold under contract to vehicle salvage operations for recycling. For a list of VINs of nonrepairable vehicles tested by the Institute, go here.

Q: How do you decide which vehicles to rate? Are there certain kinds of vehicles you don't test?

A: We try to cover as much of the marketplace as we can. Our testing prioritizes vehicles with high sales numbers that are used by mainstream drivers. We are always monitoring sales trends, and if a vehicle becomes popular we may add it to our test list. Exceptions also are made when manufacturers request and pay for testing.

Q: Will you conduct a crash test for me for a fee?

A: No. The Institute is a nonprofit organization, and our crash test facility supports the Institute's research and consumer information programs. However, there are many for-profit test facilities that will conduct crash tests for a fee. Some of these are Calspan, TRC Inc., Karco Engineering, MGA and Defiance Testing & Engineering (bumper testing only).

Q: How do I report a possible safety-related vehicle defect?

A: IIHS doesn't track or investigate vehicle defects. The federal government addresses possible and confirmed defects through the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). NHTSA maintains a toll-free hotline for consumers who have vehicle-related complaints. That number is 1-888-DASH-2-DOT (1-888-327-4236). NHTSA also maintains an on-line database of complaint files that can be searched by vehicle make and model as well as lots of good information about the vehicle recall process.

Q: How do I pursue a career in vehicle crash testing?

A: Think it sounds like fun to crash cars for a living? If you're a student interested in a crash-testing career, there are several routes you could take.

The Institute's Vehicle Research Center and other crash testing facilities are staffed mainly by technicians and engineers. People with some training in electronics, computers, photography, auto mechanics or fabrication (machine tools and welding) prepare vehicles for testing, calibrate and install sensors, build test fixtures, calibrate and maintain test dummies and film crash tests. Research engineers and more senior employees have degrees in mechanical engineering, and some have completed coursework in biomechanics or biomedical engineering. Courses in these areas are offered at many large engineering schools, including the University of Michigan, Wayne State University, Ohio State University, George Washington University, University of Virginia and University of California, San Diego.

In addition to IIHS, automakers and some auto suppliers have their own crash test facilities. The U.S. Department of Transportation and the Department of Defense have crash test labs. Independent labs such as Calspan, TRC Inc., Karco Engineering and MGA conduct testing and research on a contract basis for government and industry customers.

Q: Can you help me with my highway safety-related invention?

A: Although IIHS is always interested in learning about new ideas and products, we do not approve, endorse or promote specific proprietary devices or products. Consequently, we cannot be of any assistance to inventors.

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VIN 10th character
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