Explained: Euro NCAP testing | AA Cars

Euro NCAP tests – you may have heard about these when looking for a new car. Euro NCAP stands for the European New Car Assessment Programme, and uses a rating system to test new cars for their safety. It’s an umbrella organisation, with a number of European members – such as the Department for Transport and Thatcham Research here in the UK – as well as test facilities. That makes it the top car safety testing outfit, and many cars go through its rigorous processes.

If a car’s going to be sold on a large scale in Europe, it’s likely to be tested via Euro NCAP, to check whether there are any safety issues. But what’s the process and how are cars scored on safety?

How are cars tested by Euro NCAP?

Each car goes through a set of crash tests to get a rating in 4 areas of safety:

  • Adult occupant protection
  • Child occupant protection
  • Vulnerable road user protection
  • Safety assist

For these areas, Euro NCAP performs different tests to get a score out of 100. When the tests are complete, the cars get a star rating. The most a car can be awarded is 5 stars.

Dummies with special impact receptors are used to see how a human would react in each crash situation. Here are the different tests for each area of safety testing.

Adult occupant protection

  • Offset deformable barrier
    • At 40mph, the vehicle is crashed into a barrier part of the way across its front end.
  • Full-width rigid barrier
    • The vehicle is crashed into a solid wall at 31mph.
  • Side mobile barrier
    • A trailer is rolled into the side of the vehicle at 30mph to replicate a side-on impact.
  • Side pole
    • A test car is put on a sled and dragged into a pole at 20mph to see how it would perform in a skid.
  • Whiplash
    • 3 tests are performed on the car’s seats with a dummy to see if they protect against severe head and neck injury.
  • Autonomous emergency braking (AEB) 
    • This is used to see how responsive autonomous emergency braking systems are with a car in front.

Child occupant protection

  • Child restraint system (CRS) performance
    • A trailer is crashed into the side of the test car at 30mph, with child-sized dummies used to see the effects of an impact.
  • Vehicle provisions
    • This test is done to see how many Isofix points are fitted under the current i-Size child restraint standards.
  • CRS installation check
    • This examines if a child’s seat can be fitted easily in all positions with Isofix points.

Vulnerable road user protection

  • Head impact
    • The vehicle is driven into a dummy at 24mph and measurements are taken on how a pedestrian’s head reacts on impact.
  • Upper leg impact
    • The test vehicle is crashed into a dummy at 24mph to see how such an impact would affect the pelvis and upper leg of a pedestrian.
  • Lower leg impact
    • This test looks at how a car’s lower front bumper affects a pedestrian on impact, also at 24mph.
  • AEB pedestrian
    • Tested during the day and at night, a dummy on a track is pulled across the path of the car. This sees if the car’s AEB can detect a pedestrian and stop in time without hitting them.
  • AEB cyclist
    • In 2 scenarios, a dummy on a bike is pulled across and in front of the test car to see if it’s detected by the AEB system.

Safety assist

  • Electronic stability control (ESC) 
    • This system is used to help drivers keep control of the car. At 50mph, the car is swerved to see how it detects a loss of traction or reduced stability.
  • Seatbelt reminders
    • This tests for the loudness and duration of the warning signal, as well as the position and clarity of any visual warnings.
  • Speed assistance systems
    • Cars with speed detection and intelligent adaptive cruise control systems are tested to see if they pick up road signs and slow down as expected.
  • AEB interurban
    • These systems help avoid rear-end crashes. A vehicle moves more slowly in front and the car behind is tested to see how quickly it brakes.
  • Lane support
    • This test is performed on cars that come with systems to keep them in their lane.

What do Euro NCAP test results mean?

After running the tests, Euro NCAP comes up with a final score for each section of safety. They’re all marked out of 100.

The 4 marks are then used to give a star rating for the car. Manufacturers aim to get 5 stars, but some cars have recently been given lower ratings as they lack safety assists.

There are also some cars that come with 2 ratings. That means it’s been tested with and without safety equipment – the one fitted with safety assists will have the higher rating.

5 stars – The car performs well in crash protection and is equipped with a good amount of crash avoidance systems.

4 stars – This is for cars with good crash protection that come with a couple of crash avoidance assists.

3 stars – Crash protection is average or good but the car lacks crash avoidance technology.

2 stars – Crash structure doesn’t provide quality protection and there’s no safety equipment.

1 star – There’s limited crash protection.

If you want a car that’s safe, look for models with 4- and 5-star Euro NCAP ratings. These scores can help you narrow down your options.


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