Best Used Cars for Teens

Best Used Cars for Teens

Vehicles that meet our safety, reliability, and performance criteria

Last updated: June 24, 2016 03:00 PM

Most parents look for the best 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 (ESC) and curtain airbags, as well as good crash-test results. (See our guide to teen driving safety and our new cars for teens list.)

Choosing the best used 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 side and head-protection curtain airbags, 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.

As of the 2012 model year, all cars are equipped with ESC, which can help simplify shopping. Some cars below are differentiated by years depending on when ESC became standard or reliability performance.

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.

Click on the model links below to access the complete road test, reliability, safety, owner satisfaction, pricing, and other key data.

Make & model
Acura TSX
Buick Regal (2012-2013)
Chevrolet Equinox (4-cyl., 2012 or later)
Chevrolet Malibu (4-cyl., 2009 or later)
Ford Focus sedan (2010-2011)
Ford Fusion (4-cyl. and hybrid, 2010-2012 and 2014 or later)
Honda Accord (4-cyl., 2008 or later)
Honda Civic (2012 or later)
Honda CR-V (2015 or later)
Honda Fit (2011 or later)
Hyundai Elantra (2012 or later)
Hyundai Santa Fe (2007-2009 and 2011-2014, non-3rd row)
Hyundai Sonata (4-cyl., non-turbo, 2006 or later)
Hyundai Tucson (2010 or later)
Kia Forte (2010-2011)
Kia Optima (non-turbo, 2011 or later)
Kia Soul  
Kia Sportage (4-cyl., nonturbo, 2011 or later)
Mazda3 (2011 or later)
Mazda6 i (4-cyl.)
Mazda CX-5
Mitsubishi Outlander (non-3rd row, 2007-2013)
Nissan Altima (4-cyl., 2010-2012)
Nissan Rogue (2010-2013 and 2015)
Nissan Sentra (2011-2012)
Scion xB (2008 or later)
Scion xD (2012 or later)
Subaru Crosstrek
Subaru Forester (non-turbo, 2009 or later)
Subaru Impreza (non-turbo, 2011 or later)
Subaru Legacy (4-cyl., 2009 or later)
Subaru Outback (4-cyl., 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 RAV4 (4-cyl., non-3rd row, 2004 or later)
Volkswagen Jetta (2009-2014)
Volkswagen Jetta/Golf Sportwagen (2009-2014)
Volkswagen Rabbit (2009) / Golf (2010-2014)
Volkswagen Tiguan (2013 or later)
Volvo S60 (2012 or later)

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