When choosing a car for a teen driver, it’s important to look further than just today’s budget limitations to ensure that you buy a good, reliable model that can safely transport your child for years to come.

Selecting the best used car for a young driver will usually involve compromises, from practical considerations to the wants of an image-conscious teen. Simply put: The best bet is to buy the newest, most reliable model loaded with the best safety equipment you can afford.

Make sure the vehicle you buy has key safety features such as electronic stability control and curtain airbags. The lifesaving assistance those systems can provide is worth every penny they cost in an emergency situation, and they can be especially beneficial for an inexperienced driver. If possible, stretch for a model with forward-collision warning and automatic emergency braking, both of which CR strongly recommends.

Finding a used car equipped with ESC has become simpler because the federal government mandated it as a standard feature starting with the 2012 model year. ESC is readily available in models after 2010, but you need to check the specific car you’re considering because it may have been offered only as an option.

Safety equipment carries lots of promise, but to fully assess the overall safety of the car, consider how it performed in crash tests conducted by the federal government and by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. All this information, and much more, can be found on the model pages linked below.

more on car buying

Large pickups and SUVs aren’t recommended for young, inexperienced drivers because these vehicles are more difficult to handle than cars are and because they invite the possibility of teen passengers, which can be a distraction to the driver. Because sports cars increase the risk of speeding and have a higher rate of accidents, they carry higher insurance premiums and are not on our list.

Reliability is key when choosing a used car, because any warranty protection has likely expired. In addition, you may be planning for your teen to drive this first car for years to come, so you’ll want a car that lasts.

To provide insight on car reliability, Consumer Reports surveys its subscribers and shares their experiences. Our model pages feature reliability ratings based on data from more than 500,000 vehicles, and they provide an invaluable look at how cars hold up over time.

Keep in mind that every used car has been treated differently by a previous owner. The older a car is, the more its care and maintenance history will affect its overall performance and reliability. Once you’ve narrowed your shopping list to cars that are likely to be smart choices, have the specific car you’re considering thoroughly inspected by a qualified mechanic before you sign the deal.

There are many factors to consider in selecting the right car for your teen. To make it easier, we have created the following list of the best used cars that meet our criteria for being safe and reliable, and each has performed well in Consumer Reports’ tests. Some used cars below are differentiated by the model years to look for depending on when ESC became standard, or on the vehicle’s reliability performance.

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

2014 Toyota Camry driving, a good used car for teens
2014 Toyota Camry
Make and ModelPrice Range
Acura TSX


Chevrolet Equinox (4-cyl., 2012-2017)


Chevrolet Malibu (nonturbo, 2009 or 2016)


Chevrolet Sonic (2014 or later)


Ford Edge (2016 or later)


Ford Focus sedan (2010-2011)


Ford Fusion (4-cyl. & hybrid, 2009-2016)


Honda Accord (4-cyl., 2008 or later)


Honda Civic (nonturbo, non-SI, 2012-2017)


Honda CR-V (2015 or later)


Honda Fit (2011 and later)


Honda HR-V


Hyundai Elantra (2012 or later)


Hyundai Santa Fe (V6, 2007-2009, 2011, or later; no third row )


Hyundai Santa Fe Sport


Hyundai Sonata (4-cyl., nonturbo, 2006-2010, 2012, or later)


Hyundai Tucson (2010-2015)


Kia Forte (2010 or later)


Kia Optima (nonturbo, 2012 or later)


Kia Soul


Kia Sportage (4-cyl., nonturbo, 2011-2012, 2014, or later)


Mazda CX-3


Mazda CX-5


Mazda 3 (2011 or later)


Mazda 6 (4-cyl., 2009 or later)


Mitsubishi Outlander (2007 to 2013, no third row)


Nissan Altima (4-cyl., 2010-2012, 2015, and later)


Nissan Rogue (2009 or later)


Nissan Sentra (2011-2012, 2016)


Scion iA


Scion iM


Scion xB (2008 or later)


Scion xD (2010 or later)


Subaru Crosstrek


Subaru Forester (nonturbo, 2009 or later)


Subaru Impreza (nonturbo, 2011-2016)


Subaru Legacy (4 cyl., 2010 or later)


Subaru Outback (4 cyl., 2010 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


Toyota RAV4 (4 cyl., no third row, 2004 or later)


Volkswagen Golf (2012-2014)


Volkswagen Tiguan (2014 or later)


Volvo S60 (2012-2014 and 2016)