TEENS

Best New & Used Cars for Teens: Choose the Right Vehicle to Keep Your Driver Safe

Best New & Used Cars for Teens: Choose the Right Vehicle to Keep Your Driver Safe

Written By: Jennifer Stockburger/Director of Operations at Consumer Reports’ Auto Test Center

It’s an exciting and worrisome time when your teen gets their driver’s license. You want to empower them to be safe and responsible behind the wheel starting with good driving lessons, car insurance, AND the right (and safest) car.

Choosing the right car for your new driver can be the hardest decision to make because there are so many factors to consider. Of course, you first have to take into account your budget, but you also have to consider the likelihood of a few dings and dents and the overall safety factors of the car. After all, your teen’s safety is your highest priority.

 

The reality is that driving risk is at its highest at age 16, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).

IIHS data shows that the fatal crash rate per mile driven for teens is about four times the rate for drivers 20 and older. And, while graduated licensing restrictions limit new driver’s privileges in many states, the importance of keeping your teen safe during their first driving years as they gain maturity and experience can’t be underestimated.

Here’s what to consider when choosing a car, along with standout models recommended by Consumer Reports (CR) and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).

BEST USED CARS for Teens Under $20,000

Buying a used car or giving your teen a hand-me-down might be a natural choice, especially if your budget is tight.

CR and the IIHS identified more than 40 used vehicles ranging from $6,600 to $20,000 that meet stringent safety and reliability criteria. We have two tiers of recommendations: Good Choices and Best Choices.

To make the cut to be a Good Choice, vehicles must have:

  • Electronic stability control, which has important crash prevention and lifesaving potential.
  • Above-average reliability for a majority of the years listed, based on CR’s member surveys, to avoid unwanted, and potentially costly, repairs.
  • Average or better scores from CR’s emergency handling tests.
  • Dry braking distances of less than 145 feet from 60 mph in CR’s brake tests.
  • Good ratings in four IIHS crashworthiness tests: moderate-overlap front, side, roof strength, and head restraints.
  • Four or five stars from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (if rated).

Our “Good Choice” Used Car Picks Include These Models (Among Others):

  • Small cars: Kia Soul (2013, 2017, 2019, 2021 or newer)
  • Midsized cars: Honda Accord coupe or sedan (2013 or newer)
  • Large cars: Hyundai Genesis (2013)
  • Small SUVs: Nissan Rogue (2015, 2017, 2021 or newer)

To be designated a Best Choice, vehicles must meet an even higher standard:

  • A good or acceptable rating in the IIHS driver’s-side small-overlap front crash test, which replicates what happens when the front left corner of a vehicle collides with another vehicle or an object such as a tree or utility pole.
  • Insurance claim rates. The Best Choices list excludes vehicles that have substantially higher than average insurance claim rates under medical payment, personal injury protection, or bodily injury liability coverage.

These recommendations focus on models that provide the best all-around protection for inexperienced drivers. Ultimately, the goal is to select a reliable car with as much safety as you can afford. Active driver assistance systems (ADAS) are becoming widespread and are now available in many late-model used cars. Features such as forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking, pedestrian detection, and blind spot warning are proven features that can help avoid collisions and are worth considering if your budget allows.

“Best Choice” Used Car Picks Include These Models (Among Others):

  • Small cars: Mazda 3 sedan or hatchback (2014-20; built after October 2013)
  • Midsized cars: Subaru Legacy (2013-21; built after August 2012)
  • Large cars: Toyota Avalon (2015 or newer)
  • Small SUVs: Volvo XC60 (2013, 2017)

BEST NEW CARS for Teens

Though admittedly less common, rather than giving your teen an older model, buying or leasing them a new car is another option, even if that means driving an older model yourself. Although purchasing a new car for your teen has its merits, it isn’t for everyone, especially since prices remain high for all cars.

New cars come with a comprehensive bumper-to-bumper warranty. And they have the promise of being dependable through high school and well beyond. Plus, they have the very latest active safety features, and integrated services like e911, which can automatically call for help in an emergency and give the precise location of the vehicle, even if drivers are unable to do so themselves.

While buying a new car for a young driver is less common than buying a used car, new cars provide the opportunity to give your teen an advantage in terms of providing the latest in both crash avoidance and crash protection technologies.

CR and the IIHS developed a list of vehicles that balance accident avoidance, crash protection, performance, and reliability. Here’s what was required to be considered among the best new cars for teens:

  • A Consumer Reports recommendation, meaning that it meets CR’s stringent standards for safety, reliability, and road-test performance.
  • Standard forward collision warning and automatic emergency braking systems.
  • Average or better scores from CR’s emergency handling tests.
  • Dry braking distances of less than 140 feet from 60 mph in CR’s brake tests.
  • A curb weight over 2,750 pounds because small, light vehicles don’t provide enough protection in multiple-vehicle crashes. Despite their mass, large SUVs don’t make the list because they can be hard to handle and often have long braking distances. Sports cars are also excluded because they can encourage dangerous driving.
  • A designation as either a Top Safety Pick or Top Safety Pick Plus by the IIHS based on the model’s performance in key crash, accident avoidance, and headlight tests.
  • A mid-level or better rating by CR for controls that are easy to use.
  • Four or five stars from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (if rated).

Recommended New Cars Include (Among Others):

  • Small cars: Mazda 3
  • Midsized cars: Subaru Legacy
  • Small SUVs: Honda HR-V

For More Information Read:

BEST Used Cars for Teens Under $20,000 – Consumer Reports

BEST New Cars for Teens – Consumer Reports

About Jennifer Stockburger

Jennifer Stockburger is Director of Operations at Consumer Reports’ Auto Test Center, the nonprofit’s 327-acre facility in Colchester, Connecticut, one of the largest independent consumer automobile testing centers in the world. The CR team tests about 50 cars each year and drives them for a total of about 500,000 miles annually.

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