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Safest Car in America
© 2006 KenRockwell.com

2002 Mercedes E430The Mercedes E430 in Olivenhain, California, June, 2006

2002 E430 (click to enlarge)

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The 1999 - 2002 E Class is the safest car in America.

The IIHS analyzed actual crashes involving 1999 - 2002 model year cars. The E-Klasse is safer than any other car tested. You can read it here. I suspect the reason you never heard this from Mercedes is because the E430 stopped production just as the report was published.

The Chevy Blazer killed over 30 times as many of its drivers over any given distance. The people who want to sell you SUVs try not to mention the deadly rollover problem. More on rollovers on my SUV safety page.

Why worry about test results (and the E430 is a best pick anyway by the IIHS) when you can see real-world results?

Here are some of the reasons you're safest in an E430. I start off with the obvious.

Seat Belts

Five complete three-point belts.


Every car has airbags today. Every Mercedes has had them standard for the past twenty years!

The E430 has eight airbags: Two in front, two in the front doors, two in the rear doors, and two along the roof on each side that come down like curtains to protect from head side motion and glass.

Airbags are the least important safety feature. It's more important to avoid a crash in the first place.

ESP Stability Control

ESP Stability Control is more important than antilock brakes (ABS) and traction control (ASR). As Consumer Reports agreed, it's sad no one knows what ESP does.

ESP prevents skids and keeps the car going where it's pointed, avoiding accidents. ESP has been standard on all Mercedes for years, and still hasn't made it to discount cars.

ESP has motion, skid, spin acceleration and slide sensors called accelerometers. These sensors work with the computer systems and other inputs from the engine and steering and brakes to calculate where the car should be going. If it's not going where it should, the system can apply braking separately and automatically to each wheel to correct a skid!

Want to try it? Find an open piece of pavement, drive in small circles, and punch the big V8. The E430 will run itself around that circle as fast as it can without spinning out, even on snow or ice. Try hammering the throttle on a curved onramp whose radius straightens out as you get on a freeway. Leave it at full throttle and hold on. The E430, or most modern cars with ESP (also called DSC by BMW), will go as fast as it can and apply more and more throttle automatically as you straighten out. FUN! ESP lets crazy people let the car drive itself at 80%. Of course you could kill yourself playing like this; be careful and practice on a track first.

Automatic Brake Assist

Mercedes, inventor of most safety systems like antilock brakes (patented 1959), crumple zones (patented 1954) and airbags (in actual production since 1982), discovered that in a crash few people get on the brakes soon enough or hard enough. People crash because they didn't use all the brakes that they had.

Brake assist detects an imminent crash if you suddenly hammer the brakes for no reason. If you do, it applies the brakes at 100% and stops you about three times shorter than you probably would have stopped otherwise.

More important than airbags, this prevent crashes.

Antilock Brakes (ABS)

Also standard on Mercedes for the past twenty years, some cars today still don't have them.

ABS lets you stop in any weather without skidding, and more importantly, allows you to steer while braking. In a car without ABS, locking up the brakes causes it to slide straight ahead into what you're trying to avoid.

Rental car companies make a point of saving $200 per car by deleting them, and other cars simply don't have them. Here's a window sticker on a 2006 Impala waiting in the prep lot of one of America's largest rental car companies. Not only does this model not include ABS (power brakes are not ABS), the rental company saved itself $175 by deleting some of the extra airbags!

Mercedes' safety systems today include antilock brakes as part of the ESP and Brake Assist systems. These systems go far beyond simple ABS.

Auxiliary Explosives

Explosive charges in all four seatbelt mounts pull back the seatbelt in case of crash. These are called "Emergency Tensioning Retractors," or ETRs. These keep you from hitting something inside the car and make the seatbelts far more effective.

Head Restraints

Five complete, useful head restraints to prevent whiplash in case of a rear collision. Unlike ordinary car with head rests, these prevent injury.

Be sure to adjust them to the middle of your head and have them as close as possible to your head. In case of crash they'll brace your head - you don't want to have five inches behind you for your head to flop. I keep my head restraints right on the back of my head.

They work. Someone drove a truck into the back of my 1984 190D at about 35MPH. I was stopped at an intersection. My Mercedes was totaled. It was a foot shorter. I hardly felt it because the seats in a Mercedes are strong enough not to break and fall over backwards and the head restraints actually work.

The rear seat has three fully functional head restraints. Be sure to pull them up for your guests. After your guests leave, there is a switch on the dashboard to flip them down and out of the way.

Full Size Spare

See my Trunk page. The spare lying in the trunk is also designed to absorb energy if some idiot drives into the back of your E430.

First Aid Kit

There is a complete first aid kit in the rear center pull-down console.

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