Best Used Cars for Teens

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

A teenage driver at the wheel of her car

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

Key features such as curtain airbags and electronic stability control (ESC), which uses the brakes to help keep a vehicle on its intended path instead of sliding during a turn, are worth every penny in an emergency. Plus, the lifesaving potential of those features can provide some reassurance for an inexperienced driver.

If your budget allows for it, find 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. It's also readily available in some models after 2010, but you'll need to check the specific car you’re considering. Ask to see the original window sticker, or look at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's list of cars with standard ESC.

Safety equipment carries lots of promise, but to fully assess the overall safety of a 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.

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

Reliability is key when choosing a used car 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 members and shares their experiences. The latest reliability survey collected data on about 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.

In the following list, you'll find the best used cars that meet our criteria for being safe and reliable. Each has performed well in Consumer Reports’ tests. Some used cars below are differentiated by model years. The years listed are when the vehicle had average or better reliability scores, and we can therefore recommend it.

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

 

2014 Toyota Camry driving, a good used car for teens.
2014 Toyota Camry