What is Euro NCAP?

Keen to choose a car that will protect you well in a crash? Euro NCAP safety ratings show how safe cars are for occupants and pedestrians

By BuyaCar team

If you’re looking for a car that’s as safe as possible, it's useful to understand how the Euro NCAP (New Car Assessment Programme) crash safety ratings work. Euro NCAP is an independent organisation funded by a number of governments that provides the most respected assessments of car safety in Europe. After decades of work, Euro NCAP has become the authority when it comes to car safety in the UK.

It's a highly reputable and trusted organisation that carries out its own crash tests to stringent standards that far exceed the legal minimum. A vast majority of modern cars driven on UK roads today will have Euro NCAP crash ratings to help you gauge how safe they really are. Alongside its detailed safety ratings, Euro NCAP publishes videos of the tests it conducts. 

The overall test scores are displayed on a simple five-star rating scale. Tests also include more detailed scores about how well a car protects adults, children, and pedestrians. There’s also a separate assessment that shows how well high-tech safety systems - such as autonomous emergency braking systems - perform.

Since the launch of Euro NCAP in 1997, the group has been credited with pushing car manufacturers to step up their attitude to safety In the late 90s, it wasn’t uncommon for cars to score just one or two stars during EuroNCAP safety tests. These days, even with tougher testing, four and five star results are far more frequent, and EuroNCAP can take a lot of credit for this immense upshift in car safety.

What is Euro NCAP?

NCAP is a European body, funded by organisations from seven countries, including three from Britain; the Department for Transport, Thatcham Research, and International Consumer Research and Testing. It exists to assess new car safety and publishes safety scores and data for cars tested over several decades on its website, enabling new and used car buyers alike to gauge the safety of models they're considering buying.

Randomly chosen cars are crash tested in laboratories across Europe to a common set of standards and then scored according to strict criteria. Typically Euro NCAP will assess a large proportion of the most popular cars across Europe. The organisation regularly tightens its ratings, meaning that a five-star car in 2021 is likely to be far safer than a model that achieved a five-star score in 2014, for instance.

Which cars are tested by Euro NCAP?

Euro NCAP says that it chooses the 'most popular and interesting models', so you can expect to find the latest information on cars like the Ford Fiesta, Vauxhall Astra, Nissan Qashqai and BMW 3 Series, for example, as these are popular models and sell in large numbers.

You might be waiting for a very long time before you see a safety score for something rarer, such as a Ferrari, however, as many niche models are not tested by Euro NCAP, due to the sheer expense of testing and the small number of these cars sold.

Euro NCAP ratings

We highlight the overall star rating awarded to cars tested by Euro NCAP in our buying guides but you can get more details - including a breakdown of the scores described below - on Euro NCAP’s website.

The organisation also publishes videos of the crash tests performed on each car, as well as an annual summary of the safest cars tested, such as the one below from 2016.

Euro NCAP star ratings

Each car is awarded up to five stars. In recent years, it has been virtually impossible for a model to get a full five-star rating without advanced technology that helps it to avoid crashes.

In the past cars were scored merely on their ability to withstand impacts, though you can expect cars' abilities to avoid crashes in the first place to play a more and more significant role in cars' scores going forward.

5 stars Five stars equates to 'overall excellent performance in crash protection and well equipped with comprehensive and robust crash avoidance technology'.

4 stars Cars must achieve 'overall good performance in crash protection and all round; additional crash avoidance technology may be present'.

3 stars Cars must offer 'at least average occupant protection but not always equipped with the latest crash avoidance features'.

2 stars Euro NCAP describes crash protection in a two-star car as 'nominal crash protection but lacking crash avoidance technology'.

1 star One-star cars offer 'marginal crash protection and little in the way of crash avoidance technology', meaning that this rating is a damning assessment of the level of safety offered by affected models.

0 star Thankfully, this is the rarest rating to be awarded, with Euro NCAP stating that zero-star cars meet 'type-approval standards so can legally be sold but lacking critical modern safety technology'.

In more recent years, the organisation has re-tested cars that scored well in previous years, showing how far the standards needed to meet certain star ratings have increased. An example is the Fiat Panda, which was awarded four stars in 2011 but zero stars when re-tested in 2018.

Additional scores

Euro NCAP adult occupant ratings

Shown as a percentage score

Tests are carried out using a large dummy and small dummy to ensure that cars can safely protect passengers of different heights and weights.

Readings are taken from front, side, and rear crash tests to calculate how well the dummies are protected, and whether any of the forces involved could cause injuries.

Euro NCAP child occupant ratings

Shown as a percentage score

Child safety tests involve checking whether different types of child seat fit in the car, and how well children are protected in the event of front and side impacts. Until 2016, these tests were carried out using dummies to represent an 18-month-old baby and a three-year old child.

Since then, those have been replaced with dummies representing a six-year-old and a 10-year-old, placed on a booster seat or cushion, rather than a child seat.

Euro NCAP vulnerable road users ratings

Shown as a percentage score

Tests calculate how severely injured a pedestrian would be if they were hit at around 25mph. Crash tests measure the force with which a pedestrian’s head, upper leg, and lower leg would be hit by specific models traveling at this speed.

Manufacturers have adapted their cars to be more pedestrian friendly by designing higher bonnets - with greater gaps between them and the typically hard and unyielding engines beneath - to reduce the chance of a pedestrian's head experiencing higher impact forces, as well as devices such as under-bonnet airbags. Cars score more highly if they have an autonomous emergency braking system that can detect people.

Euro NCAP safety assist systems

Shown as a percentage score

From annoying beeps that remind you to wear your seatbelt when driving to advanced braking systems that can prevent collisions at high speeds, these features are all tested by Euro NCAP, and can help to boost a car’s safety assist rating.