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Safe Cars for Teenager: Recommended Safe Used Cars

Safe Cars for Teenager

If you have teenagers, like I do, then you know what an assault on your emotions this can be, the ups-and-downs, the disagreements and rewards, the pride of seeing them grow into adults, and the sadness that you’re baby boy or girl is all grown up.

It’s an emotional roller-coaster to say the least.

But of all the emotional stress that we face when raising a teenager, watching them become drivers of the family car is one of the most difficult. And getting them their own car, while it sure makes them happy, it can make the parent a bit insecure about their safety.

Buying your teen their first car

You’ve done your job, you’ve provided them instruction, set a good example, and raised a good kid, and now it’s time to let them behind the wheel of a car. You’ll want to provide them the best and most safe vehicle you can afford. Of course you want to make sure you have good auto insurance too, but that protects your liability and your property, you want to make sure you protect your child too.

What is the best used car to purchase for your teen driver?

Leaning on the data provided by the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety, we are putting out our first-ever recommended list of used vehicles for teenage drivers.

In conducting our research, we have determined that many teenage drivers operate vehicles that don’t offer good crash protection. This is often the case because the vehicles selected don’t offer the best or most important safety technology.

The IIHS survey revealed that parents who purchased vehicles for their teen, on average, purchased a vehicle that was model year 2006 or older, and for those who received a “hand-me-down” vehicle, the model year was slightly older. Additionally, nearly 30% of survey respondents indicated that they purchased or provided their teen a car that was in either the “mini” or “small” vehicle category.

Just focusing on the model year and the vehicle category responses provides us a clear understanding that there is real value in providing parents this list. We all know that teen drivers crash more than adults (check out some Checkout Teen Driver Tips, but the statistics indicate that those teens who were killed in accidents were in smaller or older vehicles. Between 2008 – 2012 teens (15-17 years) were 45% more likely than adults (35-50 years) to be killed in accidents while driver “small” or “mini” class vehicles. Eight-two percent of these teens were in vehicles that were at least 6-years old.

So, hopefully, by using this information the parents of our IronPoint Insurance Services family of customers, and the readers of our blog, can make more safe choices when selecting a vehicle for their teenage driver.

So, let’s get to it, what are the safe cars?

Before we go too far, you may be asking why we are only focusing on used cars. That’s a great question. Our research and that of the IIHS both determined that over 80 percent of families who purchased or provided a vehicle for their teen said the vehicle was used. Given this reality, we created our first list exclusively surrounding used car options.

We also recognize that purchasing a vehicle for your teenage driver is a financial decision as much as anything else. Many of us don’t have huge budgets, and purchasing vehicles with all the modern safety features sounds like it can be pretty pricey. That is why our list contains vehicles that range between $5,000 and $20,000, so there should be an option that fits into most family budgets.

The important thing to focus on is that the recommended vehicles contain specific safety conditions:

  1. Lower horsepower – You should avoid vehicle with too much horsepower relative to the vehicle curb-weight. A more powerful car is too tempting for a teen who is much more likely to test the limits than an adult.
  2. Vehicles that Protect Better in a Crash – This means bigger and heavier. We don’t recommend any “mini” or “small” class vehicles. Simply put, bigger and heavier is safer.
  3. You want Electronic Stability Control (ESC) – ESC helps a driver maintain control of a vehicle in turns and on curves. It can also help in slippery roads.
  4. Vehicle with High Safety Rating – We, like IIHS, focused on vehicle that have moderate or acceptable ratings in the two IIHS tests, as well as receiving four & five star ratings from the National Highway Traffic Administration (NHTSA).

While we were very sensitive to the price for recommended vehicles, we do recognize that our selections do “average” a bit higher than what people are actually paying. In the IIHS survey, the mean purchase price for a teen’s first vehicle was approximately $9,800, with a median of $5,300. On our list there are many vehicles under $10,000, but only a small number that cost under $5,300, this means our median will be higher.

It is difficult to keep the pricing in the exact average and mean of current vehicle purchase behavior because we are recommending newer vehicles with more modern safety equipment. But you will find there are plenty of vehicle that are affordable, and the additional money is really an investment in reducing the risk our teens are taking when they assume the role of driver.

Each of the vehicles selected will have the ESC systems, and we have elected to provide no vehicles with “high-horsepower.” The base engines of each of the vehicle will have adequate power, and your teen will still enjoy driving them.

We are including the SUV’s and Minivans, but for the following reasons, we think you should think against selecting vehicles from these catagories:

  1. Fuel Consumption for SUV’s
  2. These vehicles encourage having too many passengers
  3. Minivans just aren’t cool 🙂


Vehicles starting under $20,000

Vehicles on this list earn good ratings in the IIHS moderate overlap front, side, roof strength and head restraint tests. If rated by NHTSA, they earn 4 or 5 stars overall or 4 or 5 stars in the front and side tests under the old rating scheme. All come with standard ESC.

Saab 9-5 sedan2010 and later$17,500
Lincoln MKS2009 and later$15,500
Buick Regal2011 and later$13,500
Ford Taurus2010 and later$13,500
Buick LaCrosse2010 and later$12,900
Volvo S802007 and later$9,000
Toyota Prius v2012 and later$19,100
Mercedes-Benz C-Class sedan2009 and later$16,000
Honda Accord sedan2012 and later; coupe 2013-14$14,400
Audi A42009 and later$14,300
Toyota Camry2012 and later$14,300
Buick Verano2012 and later$14,100
Subaru Outback2010 and later$14,000
Lincoln MKZ2010 and later; built after April 2010$13,500
Kia Optima2011 and later$13,300
Hyundai Sonata2011 and later$12,100
Subaru Legacy2010 and later$11,900
Dodge Avenger2011 and later$11,600
Audi A32008 and later$11,300
Volkswagen CC2009 and later$11,200
Chevrolet Malibu2010 and later; built after November 2009$10,900
Chrysler 200 sedan2011 and later$10,700
Mercury Milan2010-11; built after April 2010$10,700
Ford Fusion2010 and later; built after April 2010$10,200
Volkswagen Passat2009 and later$10,000
Volvo C302008 and later$9,800
Volkswagen Jetta SportWagen2009 and later$9,400
Volkswagen Jetta2009 and later$8,200
Honda CR-V2012 and later$18,100
Kia Sportage2011 and later$13,800
Hyundai Tucson2010 and later$13,100
Subaru Forester2009 and later$12,800
Mitsubishi Outlander Sport2011 and later$12,000
Volkswagen Tiguan2009 and later$10,200
Honda Element2007 and later$8,900
Volvo XC602010 and later$18,000
Saab 9-4X2011-12$17,800
Toyota Highlander2008 and later$17,100
Toyota Venza2009 and later$15,900
Ford Edge2011 and later; built after February 2011$15,500
Ford Flex2010 and later$15,100
GMC Terrain2010 and later$14,900
Kia Sorento2011 and later$14,500
Infiniti EX2008 and later$14,400
Chevrolet Equinox2010 and later$13,700
Dodge Journey2010 and later$11,200
Subaru Tribeca/B9 Tribeca2006 and later$8,500
Volvo XC902005 and later$7,300
Buick Enclave2011 and later$19,900
GMC Acadia2011 and later$17,800
Chevrolet Traverse2011 and later$16,600
Chrysler Town & Country2012 and later$18,100
Honda Odyssey2011 and later$17,100
Toyota Sienna2011 and later$16,400
Dodge Grand Caravan2012 and later$15,200
Volkswagen Routan2012$14,000


Vehicles starting under $10,000

Vehicles on this list earn good ratings in the IIHS moderate overlap front test and good or acceptable ratings in the side test. If rated by NHTSA, they earn 4 or 5 stars overall or 4 or 5 stars in the front and side tests under the old rating scheme. They also have standard ESC and a better-than-poor rating for head restraints and seats.

Prices, rounded to the nearest $100, were taken from Kelley Blue Book on July 1, 2014, for the lowest trim level and earliest applicable model year based on the following criteria: vehicle in good condition, typical mileage and private party purchase in Arlington, Va.

Acura RL2005 and later$9,700
Mercury Sable2009$9,700
Kia Amanti2009$9,500
Ford Taurus2009$9,100
Audi A6 sedan2005 and later$8,300
Hyundai Azera2006 and later$5,700
Subaru Legacy2009$9,900
BMW 3-series sedan2006 and later$9,300
Mazda 62009 and later$8,900
Saturn Aura2009$8,800
Acura TL2004 and later$7,900
Volvo S402007 and later$7,700
Audi A32006-07$7,400
Mercedes-Benz C-Class sedan2005-08$6,900
Suzuki Kizashi2010 and later$6,600
Volvo S602007-09$6,500
Audi A42005-08; built after October 2004$6,200
Volkswagen Passat2006-08$5,100
Saab 9-32005 and later$4,000
Nissan Rogue2008 and later$9,800
Ford Escape2009 and later$8,700
Mazda Tribute2009 and later$8,100
Mitsubishi Outlander2007 and later$6,300
Suzuki Grand Vitara2006 and later$5,600
Mazda CX-92007 and later$9,800
Ford Edge2007-10$9,600
Hyundai Veracruz2007 and later$9,600
Hyundai Santa Fe2007-10$8,900
Honda Pilot2006 and later$8,800
Saturn Vue2008-09$7,700
Ford Taurus X2008-09$7,500
Mazda CX-72007-11$7,200
Suzuki XL72008-09$6,200
Volkswagen Routan2009-11$8,600
Dodge Grand Caravan2008-11$8,200
Chrysler Town & Country2008-11$8,100
Honda Odyssey2005-10$6,700
Hyundai Entourage2007-08$6,300
Kia Sedona2006 and later$4,600

Note: Some listed models include a “built after” date. This applies when a manufacturer makes changes to improve safety in the middle of a model year. Information about when a specific vehicle was manufactured can be found on the certification label typically affixed to the driver door or near it.

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