Most parents look for a used car when shopping for their teen to save money, but although you may need to make compromises to stay within budget, don’t skimp on safety. Make sure the vehicle you buy has advanced safety features such as electronic stability control and curtain air bags, as well as good crash-test results. (See our guide to teen driving safety and our new cars for teens list.)
Choosing a car for a young driver will usually involve compromises among budget, desirable features, and the wants of an image-conscious teen. The best bet is to buy the newest, most reliable model with the most safety equipment you can afford. Do not even consider a car without antilock brakes. If you can reach a little deeper and get a car equipped with multistage advanced front air bags, side and head-protection curtain air bags, antilock brakes, and electronic stability control, so much the better. The lifesaving assistance those systems can provide is worth every penny in an emergency situation, and they can be especially beneficial to an inexperienced driver.
To see how cars perform in a collision, check the crash results on our model pages, and even view crash tests performed by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) in our video section.
As far as what type of vehicle is best, large pickups and SUVs are not recommended for young, inexperienced drivers because they are more prone to roll over than other vehicles. Sports cars increase the risk of speeding and have a higher rate of accidents, and consequently, they carry tuition-sapping insurance premiums.
Reliability is key when choosing a used car because it probably will not have the warranty protection common on new cars. Further, you may intend for your teen to drive this first car for years to come, while money is funneled to college and starting independent adult life. To provide insight on car reliability, Consumer Reports surveys its millions of subscribers and shares their experiences. Our model pages feature reliability Ratings spanning 10 years, which can provide an invaluable look at how cars hold up over time.
But keep in mind that every used car gets treated differently. The older a car gets, the more its care and maintenance history will affect its overall performance and reliability. Once you have narrowed your shopping list to cars that are likely to be smart choices, have the specific car you are considering purchasing thoroughly inspected by a qualified mechanic before you make the purchase.
To get you started, the cars featured below all meet our criteria for being safe and reliable, and each has performed well in Consumer Reports’ tests.
For pricing information, check out our best used car deals.
See crash results for cars you are considering on our model pages, and see how they perform in IIHS crash tests in our video hub.