Donate |

Best used cars for teens

Vehicles that meet our safety, reliability, and performance criteria

Last updated: February 2014

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 can be especially beneficial to an inexperienced driver.

Check the crash results on our model pages, and even view crash tests performed by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety 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 and our used car price reports.

Make & model
Acura TSX
Buick Regal (2012)
Chevrolet Equinox (V6, 2010-2012)
Chevrolet Malibu (4-cyl., 2009-2012)
Ford Focus sedan (2009-2011)
Ford Fusion (4-cyl. and hybrid, 2010-2012)
Honda Accord (4-cyl., 2008-2012)
Honda Civic (2012 or later)
Honda Fit (2011-2012)
Hyundai Elantra (2011 or later)
Hyundai Elantra SE (2008-2010)
Hyundai Elantra Touring
Hyundai Sante Fe (V6, 2007-2009, non-3rd row)
Hyundai Sonata (4-cyl., non-turbo, 2006 or later)
Hyundai Tucson (2010 to 2012)
Kia Forte (2010-2013)
Kia Optima (non-turbo, 2010 or later)
Kia Soul (2010-2011)
Kia Sportage (4-cyl., nonturbo, 2011-2013)
Mazda3 (2011 or later)
Mazda6 i (4-cyl., 2009-2013)
Mitsubishi Outlander (2007-2013, non-3rd row)
Nissan Altima (4-cyl. 2010-2013)
Nissan Rogue (2010-2013)
Nissan Sentra (2010-2013)
Scion xB (2008 or later)
Scion xD (2012-2013)
Subaru Forester (non-turbo, 2009 or later)
Subaru Impreza (non-turbo, 2009 or later)
Subaru Impreza Outback Sport (2008 or later)
Subaru Legacy 2.5i (2009 or later)
Toyota Camry (4-cyl., 2010 or later)
Toyota Corolla (2010 or later)
Toyota Matrix (2010 or later)
Toyota Prius (2010 or later)
Toyota Prius V (2012-2013)
Toyota RAV4 (2004-2013, non-3rd row)
Volkswagen Jetta (2009-2010)
Volkswagen Jetta Sportwagen
Volkswagen Golf (2010 or later)
Volkswagen Rabbit (2009)
Volkswagen Tiguan (2011 or later)

Consumer Reports' recommendations

Choosing a car for a young person will usually involve compromises among budget, and 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 potential assistance those systems can provide is worth every penny in an emergency situation and can be especially beneficial to an inexperienced driver. Another benefit can be gained by an advanced driving training course. Such courses are offered by various advanced driving schools at closed tracks throughout the country and teach car control and proper driving.

Tremendous advances in crash protection have been made in the past 10 years. 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.

Distracted driving & teen safety

 


Find out more about distracted driving, and learn how teenagers can become safer behind the wheel.


 


   

E-mail Newsletters

FREE e-mail Newsletters!
Choose from cars, safety, health, and more!
Already signed-up?
Manage your newsletters here too.

Cars News

Connect

and safety with
subscribers and fans

Follow us on:

Cars

Cars New Car Price Report
Find out what the dealers don't want you to know! Get dealer pricing information on a new car with the New Car Price Report.

Order Your Report

Mobile

Mobile Get Ratings on the go and compare
while you shop

Learn more