Sizing up safety features is a key component of the Consumer Reports testing program. These days, testers are evaluating a lot of new ones. Nissan has come up with an expanded notion of a rear-view camera. It offers 360-degree visibility so you can see all around the vehicle.
"These systems can prove really beneficial in tight quarters and especially if you have kids that might be around your car, because they give you a double check of your surroundings. The key to using them, though, is you have to kind of train yourself to look at the monitors."
Another new safety feature Consumer Reports likes - a blind-spot alert system that lights up when a vehicle is in your blind spot - so you know not to change lanes. But some other safety features are not impressing testers.
"Pre-crash warning systems, what they do is alert you if you're approaching a vehicle ahead of you or something in front of you. What testers found, though, is that they were a bit overly sensitive, and they were going off even in safe, normal driving conditions," Jennifer Stockburger said.
Consumer Reports says far better are automatic braking systems like Volvo's City Safety. It can stop your vehicle if you get too close to something in front of you.
"Lane Departure" is another new feature - designed to signal if you've drifted out of your lane. But testers found it also can be too sensitive.
"We found that they gave too many warnings when you were driving on secondary roads, where you cross and approach the center line more often," Stockburger said.
There are two safety features Consumer Reports considers a must. They're electronic stability control and antilock brakes. Both features will be standard on every 2012 vehicle. But when shopping for a used car, Consumer Reports says be sure to look for one that has both.
Of course, none of these safety features are meant to take the place of keeping your eyes on the road.