School's out for summer, and teens have places to go. Whether heading to a friend’s house, commuting to work, or preparing for school in the fall, many young drivers need (or at least want) their own car. While there can be the temptation to buy whatever cheap model is being advertised in your neighborhood, or to provide a hand-me-down car, choosing the best used cars for teens warrants a bit more strategy.
Understandably, budget is a huge family concern when buying a car for a teen, especially with looming college costs and the realization that the car may lead a tough service life. Within that budget, we recommend buying the safest, most reliable model possible.
Teens are far more likely to be in a car accident than mature adults, thanks to their lack of driving experience and inability to accurately judge risk. Therefore, they need the best protection possible. We strongly urge you to buy a car with electronic stability control (ESC), technology that helps the driver maintain control, greatly decreasing the risk of a crash. Helpful for anyone, ESC is key for those drivers with little experience. While this limits choices to newer or more high-end vehicles, we think this technology is worth it.
Other key safety equipment includes antilock brakes, standard on any car with ESC. If you can get a car equipped with multistage advanced front air bags, plus side and head-protection curtain air bags, so much the better. The lifesaving potential assistance those systems can provide is worth every penny in an emergency situation.
For young, relatively inexperienced drivers, steer clear of pickups because they are more prone to roll over than other vehicles. Sports cars and sporty variants increase the risk of speeding and have a higher rate of accidents, and consequently, they carry tuition-sapping insurance premiums. Large old sedans or SUV "tanks" seem tempting, but newer and smaller models are actually safer, thanks to better crash structure and modern technology. Finally, avoid three-row or XL SUVs; the more passengers in a teen-driven vehicle, the higher the risk of a crash.
A small or midsized sedan is the sweet spot for safety, controllability, visibility, and affordability.
With these factors in mind, Consumer Reports maintains a list of recommended new and used cars for teens. Whittling these down further, we have identified five great used cars that are smart choices for a young driver. Each has met all the qualifications mentioned above across several model years. (More information on these, and other recommendations, can be found at ConsumerReports.org/teens.)
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. Be sure to have the specific car you are considering purchasing thoroughly inspected by a qualified mechanic before you make the purchase.