Do Classic Cars Withstand Accidents Better Than Modern Day Cars

In 2014, IHS Markit (formerly IHS Automotive) recorded that one in five cars plying America's roads are either over 16 years old or have logged over 100,000 miles. Putting that into perspective, it means all 50 states have more or less one million of these old rides still alive and kicking.

For classic cars, numbers are nearly impossible to come by. Given that a large market for the latter exists, it's not unusual to see coupes and hot rods from the 1960s and 1970s still running. It's not so much an inability to buy a new car as a desire to feel the distinction of driving in years past.

do classic cars withstand accidents better than modern day cars

However, compared to modern cars, classic cars have fewer safety features. Airbags and anti-lock braking systems, for instance, weren't adopted until the 1960s and 1970s, when such features were made mandatory. Cars of the early 20th century barely had any of these technologies at all.

All this talk about classic cars on the road raises an interesting question: "Are they safe to drive?" Sure, these vehicles pale in comparison to new ones in terms of built-in safety features. However, the answer isn't as clear-cut as you think.

Defining "Classic"

The first step involves determining what makes a car a classic, which is already a problem. There are two standards the automobile industry uses: the Antique Automobile Club of America (AACA) and the Classic Car Club of America (CCCA). To break it down:

The AACA defines classic vehicles as those that are 25 years old or older.

The CCCA defines classic vehicles as those built between 1915 and 1948.

So, putting two and two together, a classic car is built between 1915 and 1996. At this range, these cars cover five periods of car design evolution - five entirely distinct trends. And at this point, it's safe to say that not all classic cars are roadworthy.

Safety Features of Classic Cars

The first cars that became widespread in the early 1900s were designed and built with convenience rather than safety in mind. Such priorities are evident in their open designs, similar to horse-drawn wagons at the time. In the following decade, carmakers made the designs simpler to make vehicles widely affordable.

Although carmakers have begun introducing safety features earlier, it wasn't until 1968 that these features were made mandatory. More laws followed in the 1970s and 1980s, resulting in seatbelts and airbags, among others, becoming the norm in cars.

The quality of steel is another factor that separates classic and modern cars. The lightweight steel alloys used in the first cars barely hold a candle to advanced high-strength steel, just as lightweight but much more robust.

classic car vs modern car

Despite these upgrades, accidents remain a fact of life. According to the National Safety Council, deaths from road mishaps have gone up 838% since 1913, though the death rate has been steadily declining. Millions more have suffered from injuries severe enough to warrant medical attention. It's unlikely that the figures would return to early-1900s levels as population and car ownership grows.

People still fall back to other means of getting help, and one example is contacting numbers such as 1-800-injured for seeking a personal injury lawyer. No one likes getting caught in a mishap while driving a slow-moving and flimsy 1900s car.

Modified Classics

Before dismissing classic cars as death traps on today's roads, remember that there's a large market for them. Even if it means losing a bit of the car's original look and feel, many classic car owners modify their rides with modern parts and accessories. The changes can range from swapping a few car parts to loading a brand-new engine under the hood.

Car restoration is so prevalent in America that it's almost a national pastime. Peter MacGillivray, then-Vice-President of Communications for SEMA, estimated the car restoration market's overall value in 2015 at USD$ 1.9 billion. Accessories and performance parts account for the majority of expenditures made by restorers.

One 1966 Ford Mustang made headlines during the 2016 Concours d'Elegance in Amelia Island, Florida. At first glance, it appeared like a classic muscle car; but underneath the hood was an engine from its 2000s-era successors. It enjoys the best of both worlds: an old-fashioned look with modern parts that are readily available and serviceable.

Final Thoughts

If playing by the AACA standard, classic cars built postwar can be just as safe with a few modern modifications to the original build. As far as the CCCA standard goes, these vehicles won't be able to remain safe in today's high-speed, low-drag traffic. In the end, the best way cars can withstand accidents is not to get caught in one.

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