It's natural to be nervous when your child gets a driver's license and wants to go out on his or her own. Chances are, your teen is going to want something stylish. But safety and reliability are what's most important to you, and if your teenager likes the way it looks, well, consider that a bonus.
The good news is, there's no need to buy a brand new car for your teen
. Cars have dramatically improved even in just the past few years in terms of better design and modern safety features, which means you can easily find something used that's nearly as safe as the brand-new cars currently on dealership lots.
According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), 83 percent of parents buy used, rather than new cars for their teens, so you're in good company.1
You just need to know what to look for, and what to avoid.
Keep these three factors in mind as you choose your car:
1. The Right Price
While some car safety experts recommend specific models based on safety features, we know that it isn't always cost effective to shop that way. First, determine how much you are willing to spend. Find the newest cars you can afford within that price range. The IIHS offers a list of specific used vehicles recommended for teen drivers
, starting in the $5,000 range.1
Narrow your list down based on safety features (see below for the most important ones to prioritize). Then, narrow it further based on reliability ratings. Keep in mind that an older car, even one without a warranty, can still be a good option if it's reliable and likely to cost less in repairs over its lifetime.
2. The Right Size
Car safety experts generally agree that a midsize or large sedan is the smartest choice for young or inexperienced drivers. The variety of stylish small cars on the market is tempting, since they're affordable and come with enticing features, but they're simply less safe in a crash — there's less metal and less space protecting your teen. Bigger and heavier cars offer more bulk to absorb the impact of a collision, and statistics show that teens are less likely to crash a larger car in the first place.1
While it may be tempting, a truck or a large SUV is not a good idea for teen drivers. There is an increased likelihood that these types of vehicles will roll over in a crash. Smaller SUVs are acceptable, since their weight distribution is similar to a car's and therefore safer.
Also resist the temptation to pass down that classic car that's been in your family for years, or to buy that cute sports coupe that your teen keeps asking for. As attractive as these cars may seem, your new teen driver is at risk driving anything significantly valuable, too old to have modern safety equipment, or even a car that's a little too fast and powerful.
3. The Right Safety FeaturesCrash test safety ratings
assess a variety of factors in a vehicle. The most important safety features to prioritize are those that help your teen control the car in poor driving conditions, and features that will help protect your teen in the aftermath of a crash. Safety experts agree that the following attributes should be considered absolutely essential for any parent buying a car for a teenager:
- Anti-lock braking system (ABS).
- Electronic stability control (ESC).
- A full set of airbags, including side-curtain airbags.
- Good seat/head restraint rating.
- A 5-Star Overall Rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
- A Top Safety Pick or Top Safety Pick+ rating from the IIHS.
If your finances allow it, shop for vehicles with additional Advanced Drive Assistance Systems (ADAS) that help avoid collisions and accidents through automatic braking, forward collision warnings, lane assist, or blind spot warnings. Have even more wiggle room in the budget? Look for parent-friendly systems like Cell Control
that allow you to set restrictions on the car's top-speed and audio volume when your teen's got the keys — though these systems tend to only be available in more recent cars.
If you're well-informed about safety features, and you understand ahead of time exactly what you're looking for in a used car for your teen (and why they're important), you can shop the dealer lots and classified ads with a new sense of confidence.