Teenagers cause parents much worry, especially when these same youngsters slip behind the wheel of a car and do so without their supervision. The leading cause of death for people aged 16 to 19 are accidents, including motor vehicle accidents, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
You could purchase a 1996 Buick Roadmaster wagon for your teen and hope that its oversized proportions and weight protect your child in a crash. Or, if you prefer something newer and outfitted with anti-lock brakes, you might consider vehicles recommended by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).
Anne McCartt, IIHS senior vice president for research says, “It’s easier than ever to find a used vehicle with must-have safety features and decent crash test performance without spending a fortune.
Recognizing that parents want to both protect their children and do so without busting their budgets, the IIHS has assembled a list of vehicles under two tiers.
The first tier is comprised of the “best choices,” which represent vehicles costing less than $20,000 and achieving good ratings in four of the IIHS’ oldest crashworthiness tests.
The second tier is represented by “good choices,” or vehicles costing less than $10,000 and with less-than-perfect scores on certain tests. The latter category recognizes that most parents are paying less than $10,000 for a used vehicle for their son or daughter. The IIHS used an independent pricing platform to determine cost estimates.
Before we look at specific recommended vehicles, there are three areas the IIHS says parents should keep in mind when considering any vehicle.
1. Keep a lid on performance. Your daughter has her eye on a 2011 Ford Mustang GT making 412 horsepower, but that’s far too much power for young drivers. Performance cars may prove too tempting for your teen, so consider other models and lower performance versions to help teens avoid temptation in the first place.
2. The larger and heavier the vehicle, the better. Avoid the smallest cars when shopping for a teen driver. However, you can consider small SUVs such as the Toyota RAV4, Ford Escape and Honda CR-V, as these models weigh nearly the same as midsize sedans.
3. Safety is important, and electronic stability control is essential. Newer vehicles are outfitted with more safety features than ever before. Electronic stability control is essential as it helps the driver maintain control on slippery roads and curves. Required by law since 2012, some older models dating to 2005 are also equipped with this technology in addition to anti-lock brakes.
The Best Choices
Large Cars — In this segment, the IIHS identified nine cars, including one model dating to 2007 and with prices ranging from $5,800 to $19,900. The Volvo S80, Toyota Avalon and Buick LaCrosse were listed among the models worth considering.
Midsize Cars — The IIHS identified 26 models from mainstream and premium brands that may be ideal for your teen. Prices in this segment range from $5,600 for a 2009 Volkswagen Jetta to $17,300 for select Acura TL models. Also worth considering are the Subaru Outback, Mazda6, Lincoln MKZ, Kia Optima and Buick Verano.
Small SUVs — Fourteen small SUVs made the IIHS’ best choice for teen drivers list, including the Volkswagen Tiguan, Jeep Patriot and Mazda CX-5. Prices in this segment typically run from $6,700 to $18,500.
Midsize SUVs — The IIHS identified 22 midsize SUVs, ranging from $4,600 to $19,100 in price. Several retired models were listed, including the Subaru Tribeca, Toyota Venza and the Honda Crosstour.
Large SUVs, Minivans and Pickups — Your teen might not like being seen in a minivan such as a Volkswagen Routan, but these models generally score very well in IIHS safety tests. A handful of large SUVs and pickup trucks made the grade too, including the GMC Acadia and Toyota Tundra.
The Good Choices
The number of “good choices” for your teen are fewer than the “best choices,” but the lower price points merit consideration. The low-cost leader is the Saab 9-5 sedan and wagon, with a 2005 edition setting you back perhaps by $2,700.
The Mitsubishi Outlander and Nissan Rogue are among small SUVs, while the Honda Pilot and Ford Explorer are midsize SUVs to consider. For large SUVs, the IIHS likes the Mercedes-Benz R-Class and Saturn Outlook. Minivans like the Kia Sedona and Dodge Grand Caravan also make the list. As far as pickup trucks, only the Honda Ridgeline merits consideration here.
If you’re able to afford a newer vehicle, the balance of bumper-to-bumper warranty and powertrain coverage may be transferable to you. Purchasing a late-model used car from a dealer may also come with additional warranty backing, especially for certified pre-owned (CPO) models. Moreover, manufacturers typically provide special financing and other incentives for CPO vehicles. Check out our list of used car deals to see the latest incentives on CPO cars, trucks and SUVs.
You can also obtain a CARFAX Vehicle History Report to learn more about the car, including its repair history and whether it has been in an accident. Finally, taking the vehicle to a trusted mechanic is a sensible decision that can reveal current (and potential) problems that might prove very costly down the road.