Being Big Doesn’t Make Classic Cars Safe.

I admit that when I first started driving classic cars, I thought that because they were so big and made of steel, if I was involved in a traffic accident while driving my old car, I would have less risk of injury than the driver of the newer car, because my car was probably gong to be bigger than the modern car.  I have since learned (lucky for me…it was not by getting into an accident) that modern cars are by far much safer than the old classics.  The size of the classic beauties had given me a false sense of safety.  Before you go out and get that dream car you’ve always wanted, it is extremely important that you understand the limitations of classic cars when it comes to safety.

The fact is that automotive technology has made modern cars much safer than older cars.  Modern cars have crumple zones, ABS, air bags and traction control and other features that are designed to keep occupants safe.  In the older cars, the energy generated by impact was transmitted directly to the occupants, whereas new cars are designed to absorb impact.

Should You Use A Classic Car For Driving The Family Around?

You might wonder why people who understand the risk of driving classic cars would still prefer to drive a classic over a modern car?  While it’s true that you can’t install crumple zones into a classic car, there are ways to make the old cars safer such as installing restraint systems and disc brakes and changing bias ply tires to radial tires. Plus, if you drive your classic car only occasionally, you will be putting far less miles on it which will mean less risk overall.   As with most things, you have to weigh the pro’s and con’s for your own situation and strike a balance.

For me, I get such a kick out of driving the classic cars, that it’s worth it to me to take the risk now and then.  I tell myself that because the old cars are so much bigger and therefore more visible, this in a small way makes me feel better that they don’t have crumple zones and other safety features. Would I recommend a classic car as a daily driver for a family….definitely not.

Before you decide to get a classic car as a daily driver, or if you’re thinking about getting a classic car for a new teenage driver (thinking you want to surround them with all that metal), it’s important to understand how crumple zones actually work.



There are definitely some upgrades that can be made to classic cars to make them safer,  but they are never going to be as safe as most modern cars are today.  If you are planning on getting a classic car and taking the family cruising, you need to be acutely aware of the lack of safety features in these old cars.

Bigger Is Better…..Right ?

Some people have told me they think the older cars are safer because they are generally bigger than most cars on the road today….and because they were made of steel.  It is true that the old cars were made of steel,  but the material used in the “old days” was no where near as strong as the material used today.

You might wonder why modern cars look so utterly destroyed after they’ve been in an accident, but the occupants have survived.  It’s because modern cars are designed to protect the occupants and they do this by using what are known as crumple zones.  Crumple zones absorb impact, which was not the case with the old classic cars.

Today,  there are many standard safety features such as:

  • Seatbelts:
  • Tempered Glass
  • Airbags
  • Antilock Brakes
  • Stability Control
  • Collapsible Steering Columns
  • Padded Dashboards

Using a scenario, let’s compare possible outcomes of a hazardous situation utilizing the handling features of a modern car and a classic car..

You’re driving your big beautiful classic car down a country road on a pleasant Sunday afternoon.  All of a sudden, a deer jumps out in front of you, so you brake quickly trying to avoid hitting the deer.  In a modern car, you would have the benefit of anti-lock brakes and stability control, and you would stand a very good chance of staying on the road and avoiding an accident.  If you were driving an all original classic car, an evasive maneuver like that could easily cause you to swerve out of control with dire consequences.  

A Video Is Worth A Thousand Words:

There is a well known video that was put out by the Insurance Institute on Highway Safety that shows a head-on collision between a 2009 Chevy Malibu and a ’59 Chevy Bel Air.  The Bel Air is a much bigger car, but it definitely came out on the short end of the collision. Keep in mind that the “new” car in the video is a 2009 model….and today’s cars are even safer.


Of course, there are some things you can do to improve the safety of a classic car, such as installing restraint systems, adding new tires and upgrading the brakes, but as I already stated, no matter what upgrades are made to a classic, it will not be as safe as a modern car.  The truth is, the older the car,the more likely you are to die if you get into an accident.

I think all classic cars (except those that are strictly show cars and not driven) should have some basic safety upgrades.  I came across a well written article that talked about the reason for these upgrades and you can read it here.

What you can’t really do much about is the behaviour of the body/chassis during a crash with a hard object. Modern cars are designed so that the area in front of the people crumples while the area the people are enclosed in remains solid reducing the peak decelleration experienced by the occupants and making sure they don’t get crushed by the collapsing car.

Racing style roll cages work for racers who are securely belted and helmeted but are not a great idea for road use.