July 23, 2018
Renting a Car Abroad? Read This First

Renting a Car Abroad? Read This First

by Wellness Letter  

If you rent a car abroad, especially in lower-income countries, be aware that the safety standards may not be as good as those in the U.S. or other higher-income countries, and that the cars may lack safety features that are commonplace here, such as front and side air bags, electronic stability control, and frontal impact protection.

In fact, even the same brand and model of vehicle may have different safety features, depending on where or for what country it’s made. For instance, a Mexican Nissan (and its dummy inside) fared far worse than an American Nissan in crash testing done by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety a few years ago (each was the least expensive sedan sold by the com­pany in those countries). Though the Mexican government will comply with stricter car standards by 2020, and though Nissan Mexico reported that they were stopping production of this riskier car model, many are still on the road there.

There’s no way to take all the risk out of a rental, but at the very least ask about the car’s safety features and when the vehicle was last serviced. Check that the tires appear well inflated and that the treads are not worn or uneven. Then do a check of systems, including seatbelts, headlights and hazard lights, turn signals, and mirrors. Check that the car does not have excess miles—say, more than 25,000—on it (though odometers can be tampered with). Before heading onto the road, drive around the parking lot to test the brakes and to see if anything is amiss. It may also be a good idea to rent a larger, higher-end model, rather than a bare-bones compact or subcompact car.

The Global New Car Assessment Program reports safety rankings for vehicles in various regions (globalncap.org, click on “Results” and “NCAPS”). For a map of countries that adhere to vehicle safety standards set by the U.N., go to Death on the roads. A 2015 report noted that only 40 out of 193 U.N. member states adhered to all seven standards—and the U.S. is not among them because it doesn’t meet the standard related to pedestrian safety (which requires, for example, that a vehicle have a softer front bumper to reduce severity of injury if a pedestrian is struck).

This article first appeared in the UC Berkeley Wellness Letter.