Thursday, September 29, 2011

How to Find a Used Car with ESC

Electronic stability control (ESC) it the most important non-retrofittable safety feature in the history of the automobile. It prevents about 1/3 of fatalities. It's standard on all vehicles under 10,000 pounds starting with the 2012 model year. But finding it on an used car can be a challenge, particulary if you are looking for an older car or an economy car.

Web sites that can help you find the models that have ESC are:

It is optional on some models, so you have to bore down to the trims to see which trims have it as standard. I have not found a good tabulation page for trims, but Edmunds has information on the trims in its feature lists and reviews:
Edmunds uses the term "stability control" for ESC.
If it's optional on a trim then that typically means its could have been purchased as a standalone option, but few buyers did that so its probably going to be like looking for a needle in a haystack. (But VWs might be an exception to this rule - at least it seems to me to be easier to find a used VW with ESC as a standalone feature.)

Finally, you need to be aware that all these web sites, and other information sources, have errors. IIHS and Safecar conflict on the 2008 Malibu Hybrid. IIHS and Safecar both ignore the conversion van aftermarket where cargo van versions of certain passeger van models have been converted to passenger vans that don't have ESC. Edmunds lists the 2008 Malibu LS as having ESC, but it's not available on that trim. You need to confirm that the vehicle you buy has ESC. Used car ads, salespeople, and even window stickers are not reliable. Consulting the owner's manual will help. There is typically an off button for ESC or an icon that lights up during the icon check. (The icon check happens when you turn the key at or before starting the car.) It's not easy because almost every car maker has it's own product name for ESC:
(BTW, You will probably never need to use the ESC off button, check the owner's manual for when that is warranted.)

The search function at allows additional keywords to be specified to modify a used car search.  Adding "stability control" as a keyword with the "Exact Search" option is a useful screen for vehicles with ESC, but I don't think its perfect.

Some of my favorite used cars with ESC:
The 2008 Chevy Malibu New Model (not Classic) LT or LTZ. Car of the Year in 2008.
Toyota 4Runners for the 2001 model year and later models. One of the earliest non-luxury models with ESC.  Might be possible to find a 2000 or later Toyota Avalon with ESC and side air bags for around $5000, but ESC was optional in the early years so it might take some digging to find one.