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A teen using a key fob to open a car door.

Best Used Cars for Teens

Check out these safe and reliable models well-suited to new drivers

Choosing the best used car for a young driver will usually require compromises. An image-conscious teen may want the best-looking car on the lot. But simply put: The smart move is to buy the newest, most reliable model that's loaded with the best safety equipment you can afford.

Make sure the vehicle you buy has key safety features such as curtain airbags and electronic stability control (ESC), a feature that uses the brakes to help keep a vehicle on its intended path instead of sliding during a turn. The lifesaving potential of those features can provide some reassurance for an inexperienced driver and will be worth every penny in an emergency.

If possible, stretch for a model with forward-collision warning (FCW) and automatic emergency braking (AEB), both of which CR strongly recommends.

Determining whether a car has ESC can be easy. The federal government mandated it as a standard feature starting with 2012 model year vehicles, so any vehicle from then on will have it. ESC is also readily available in some models after 2010, but you'll need to check the specific car you’re considering.

Safety equipment carries lots of promise, but to fully assess the overall safety of the car, you should see how it performed in crash tests conducted by the federal government and by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). Consider the car's performance in Consumer Reports' tests of braking and emergency avoidance maneuvers as well. All of this information, and much more, can be found on the detailed model pages linked to below.

more on car buying

We don't recommend large pickups and SUVs for young, inexperienced drivers because these vehicles are more difficult to handle than cars are and because they invite the possibility of having too many teen passengers, who can be a distraction for the driver. Sports cars increase the risk of speeding, have a higher rate of accidents, and carry higher insurance premiums. They are also not on our list.

When choosing a used car, reliability is key because any warranty protection has probably expired. In addition, you may be planning for your teen to drive this 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. The latest reliability survey collected data on more than 500,000 vehicles, providing 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 any deal.

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 indicate whether ESC is  standard, or to provide more insight on the vehicle’s reliability.

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