Best Used Cars for Teens Under $20,000

    These safe, reliable used cars and SUVs are well suited for young drivers

    Teen driver adjusting rear view mirror. Photo: iStock

    Parents choosing a car for their teen driver have a tough decision to make because they need to strike a balance between cost and safety.

    The temptation—often born of necessity—is to buy a less-expensive, bare-bones model or to pass down an older family car. But because the car will be transporting their children, we feel that parents should pick the best and safest car their budget allows.

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    Teenagers are among the riskiest drivers because of a combination of immaturity, inexperience, and social pressures. Consequently, they have crash rates that are almost four times those of drivers 20 and older. Choosing the right car can help teens stay safe, but it can be challenging to balance all the factors that make a vehicle ideal for inexperienced drivers.

    Consumer Reports and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) have again combined their expertise and data to create lists of used cars, SUVs, and minivans that combine accident avoidance, crash protection, performance, and reliability. The vehicle recommendations are ideal for teens, but they can serve any shopper looking for a vehicle that excels in those areas.

    “In compiling these lists, we found that some of the same models that were on last year’s lists are actually more expensive now even though they’re a year older due to the tumultuous market,” says Jennifer Stockburger, director of operations at Consumer Reports Auto Test Center. “As the same amount of money may not be going as far, it’s even more important to make it a safe and reliable choice.”

    Even amid elevated prices, we kept our cutoff at $20,000. There are many good choices for far less—just fewer than last year. For some families, the soaring prices may mean that buying a new car is the right move, particularly with lower loan interest rates. Not to worry: We have a list for that.

    Even in this tight market, it’s possible to find some good options for young drivers. CR and IIHS identified about 50 used vehicles ranging from $6,000 to $19,900 that meet stringent safety and reliability criteria.

    We present two tiers of recommendations: Good Choices and Best Choices.

    Good Choices

    To make the cut to be a Good Choice, the vehicles must have:

    • Electronic stability control. ESC has important crash prevention and lifesaving potential. It became standard on all passenger vehicles in 2012 and was standard on many models before then. All vehicles have this important feature as standard equipment for the years listed.
    • Above-average reliability for a majority of the years listed, based on CR’s member surveys.
    • Average or better scores from CR’s emergency handling tests.
    • Dry braking distances of less than 145 feet from 60 mph in CR’s brake tests.
    • Good ratings in four IIHS crashworthiness tests: moderate-overlap front, side, roof strength, and head restraints.
    • Four or five stars from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (if rated).

    Good Choices for Teens

    Model (Year Range)Starting Price
    Mazda 3 sedan or hatchback (2011-13; built after December 2010)$6,000
    Honda Civic sedan (2012-15, 2019 or newer)$7,100
    Toyota Prius (2011 or newer)$8,100
    Chevrolet Volt (2013)$8,800
    Toyota Corolla sedan (2014 or newer)$10,900
    Lexus CT200h (2012-13)$11,100
    Toyota Prius V (2012-14)$8,500
    Toyota Camry (2012 or newer)$9,400
    Honda Accord sedan (2012 or newer) or coupe (2013 or newer)$9,900
    Volkswagen Jetta (2016)$10,900
    Ford Fusion (2015, 2018)$12,200
    BMW 3 Series sedan (2016)$14,500
    Nissan Altima (2017, 2020)$14,700
    Ford Taurus (2011)$6,300
    Hyundai Genesis (2011)$6,900
    Toyota Avalon (2011-14)$9,400
    Nissan Rogue (2014-20)$11,000

    Best Choices

    A good or acceptable rating in the IIHS driver’s-side small-overlap front crash test, which was launched in 2012. The test replicates what happens when the front left corner of a vehicle collides with another vehicle or an object such as a tree or utility pole.

    Insurance claim rates. The Best Choices list excludes vehicles that have substantially higher than average insurance claim rates under medical payment or personal injury protection coverage. Both coverage types pay for injuries to occupants of the insured vehicle. The Highway Loss Data Institute, an IIHS affiliate, collects and publishes insurance loss data by make and model every year. The results are adjusted for driver age, gender, and other factors that could affect risk.

    These recommendations focus on “Goldilocks” models that provide the best all-around protection for inexperienced drivers. Ultimately, the goal is to select a reliable car with as much safety as you can afford. Active driver assist systems (ADAS) are becoming widespread and are now available in many late-model used cars. Features such as forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking, pedestrian detection, and blind spot warning are proven features that can help avoid collisions and are worth considering if your budget allows.

    All vehicles in this list are used cars and have a starting price of $20,000 or less. (Higher-trim models may cost more.) They’re ranked within the car size by the starting price.

    The starting price listed is the least-expensive version in the range of years, assuming that the vehicle is in good condition with typical mileage and that it’s sold by a private party. The prices were provided by Kelley Blue Book.

    Prices are rounded to the nearest $100 and reflect Kelley Blue Book New-Car Fair Purchase Prices as of April 28, 2022, for the least-expensive trim level that qualifies for the recommendation. If a particular options package is needed, the manufacturer’s suggested retail price for that package has been added to the price.

    For complete road tests, reliability, owner satisfaction, pricing, and much more, click on the model names below.

    Model (year range)Starting price
    Ford C-Max Hybrid (2014-2015)$8,400
    Mazda 3 sedan or hatchback (2014 or newer)$8,700
    Chevrolet Volt (2014)$10,500
    Subaru Impreza sedan or wagon (2015, 2018-2020)$11,000
    Toyota Corolla hatchback (2019 or newer)$18,700
    Honda Insight (2019 or newer)$19,800
    Subaru Crosstrek (2018 or newer)$19,900
    Subaru Legacy (2013 or newer; built after August 2012)$8,300
    Subaru Outback (2013 or newer; built after August 2012)$8,800
    Volkswagen Passat (2015, 2017)$10,400
    Mazda 6 (2014-19)$10,800
    Toyota Prius V (2015-17)$12,400
    Lincoln MKZ (2015 or newer)$13,200
    Volvo S60 (2018)$19,100
    Audi A6 (2016-19)$19,400
    Toyota Avalon (2015 or newer)$15,700
    Hyundai Genesis (2016)$18,100
    Mazda CX-5 (2014 or newer; built after October 2013)$10,200
    Honda CR-V (2015 or newer)$14,900
    Chevrolet Equinox (2017)$15,600
    GMC Terrain (2017)$16,000
    Hyundai Kona (2018, 2021)$18,100
    Mazda CX-3 (2019)$19,200
    Volvo XC60 (2017)$19,400
    Ford Edge (2015, 2020; built after May 2015)$12,900
    Nissan Murano (2015 or newer)$14,700
    Lexus NX (2015 or newer)$16,700
    Hyundai Santa Fe (2017-19, built after March 2016)$17,800
    Toyota Highlander (2014 or newer)$17,800
    Toyota Sienna (2015-18)$14,700
    Kia Sedona (2017)$15,200
    Honda Odyssey (2017, 2020 or newer)$17,100