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Status Report, Vol. 50, No. 8 | October 1, 2015 Subscribe

Safe and affordableUpdated used vehicle recommendations for teens

Parents looking for a safe, affordable vehicle for their teen driver have many more options than just a year ago. IIHS has updated its recommendations for used vehicles for teens, and the list has grown by more than 50 percent, even though the price and safety criteria haven't changed.

"Time is on the consumer's side," says Anne McCartt, the Institute's senior vice president for research. "It's easier than ever to find a used vehicle with must-have safety features and decent crash test performance without spending a fortune."

IIHS compiled its first list of recommended used vehicles after finding that the vast majority of parents who bought a vehicle for their teen driver bought it used (see Status Report special issue: vehicles for teens, July 16, 2014). The survey also found that the budgets for teens' vehicles were limited. The mean purchase price for a teen's vehicle was $9,800, while the median was just $5,300.

IIHS compiled its first list of recommended used vehicles after finding that the vast majority of parents who bought a vehicle for their teen driver bought it used. The survey also found that the budgets for teens' vehicles were limited. The mean purchase price for a teen's vehicle was $9,800, while the median was just $5,300.

"The prices for most of the vehicles we recommend for young, novice drivers are still higher than what a lot of people are used to spending," McCartt says. "We would encourage parents to consider paying a little more for safety if they can."

Best choices, good choices

Like last year's recommendations, the new list has two tiers: "best choices," priced under $20,000 with good ratings in the Institute's four oldest crashworthiness tests, and "good choices," priced under $10,000 with less-than-perfect ratings in some tests. Although there are now some best choices under $10,000, having two tiers gives consumers a wider variety of lower-priced options.

Still, there are a few things that parents shouldn't compromise on:

  • High horsepower should be avoided. The temptation to test the limits of a powerful engine is too hard for many teens to resist. Vehicles that only come with big engines have been left off the lists, but many recommended models have high-horsepower versions that should be avoided. The base engines of all the listed vehicles have adequate power for teens.
  • Bigger, heavier vehicles are safer. Consumers won't find minicars or small cars among the best choices or the good choices. (Small SUVs, which weigh about the same as midsize cars, are OK.)
  • Electronic stability control is a must. This technology, mandatory since the 2012 model year, helps a driver maintain control on curves and slippery roads. It's a proven lifesaver, cutting single-vehicle fatal crash risk nearly in half. All listed vehicles have the feature standard.

When it comes to crash test ratings, vehicles on the "best choices" list have good ratings in the Institute's longstanding moderate overlap front, side, roof strength and head restraint tests. Vehicles on the "good choices" list have good ratings in the IIHS moderate overlap front test, good or acceptable ratings in the side test and a better-than-poor rating for head restraints.

If rated by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, vehicles on either list must earn 4 or 5 stars overall or 4 or 5 stars in the front and side tests under the old rating scheme.

The recommendations don't take into account the small overlap front crash, which IIHS added to its testing lineup in 2012. The test replicates what happens when the front corner of a vehicle hits another vehicle or an object such as a tree or utility pole. Until recently, few vehicles were designed for good protection in this type of crash.

Five recommended older models have good small overlap ratings: the Volvo XC90, beginning with 2005 models; the Volvo S80, beginning with 2007; the Acura TL, beginning with 2009; the Suzuki Kizashi, beginning with 2010; and the Volvo S60, beginning with 2011. An additional seven vehicles have acceptable ratings going back to 2011 or earlier: the Infiniti G (2007), Mazda 6 (2009), Ford Flex (2009), Chrysler 200 (2011), Dodge Avenger (2011), Kia Optima (2011) and Mitsubishi Outlander Sport (2011). Parents seeking the safest choices from each list should consider one of these vehicles.

Recommended pickups

Last year's recommendations didn't include any pickups because those that met the Institute's safety criteria exceeded the $20,000 price limit. This year, several made the cut.

"We found in our survey last year that 14 percent of teenagers are driving pickups, so we're happy to be able to recommend a few models," McCartt says. The country's most popular pickup, the Ford F-150 crew cab, will set families back $16,800 for a 2011 model. A 2007 Toyota Tundra crew cab, a best choice like the F-150, costs $12,200, while the 2006 Honda Ridgeline, a good choice, can be had for $7,700.


IIHS Recommendations: Used vehicles for teens

Best choices

Vehicles on this list earn good ratings in the IIHS moderate overlap front, side, roof strength and head restraint tests. If rated by NHTSA, they earn 4 or 5 stars overall or 4 or 5 stars in the front and side tests under the old rating scheme. All come with standard ESC.

All listed vehicles start under $20,000. Prices, rounded to the nearest $100, were taken from Kelley Blue Book on Sept. 1, 2015, for the lowest trim level and earliest applicable model year based on the following criteria: vehicle in good condition, typical mileage and private party purchase in Arlington, Va.

Large cars Model years Price
Volvo S80 2007 and newer $5,800
Ford Taurus 2010 and newer $10,900
Buick LaCrosse 2010 and newer $11,300
Buick Regal 2011 and newer $11,500
Lincoln MKS 2009 and newer $12,300
Toyota Avalon 2011 and newer $15,700
Hyundai Azera 2012 and newer $16,800
Mercedes-Benz E-Class sedan and coupe 2010 and newer $19,000
Infiniti M37/M56/Q70 2011 and newer $19,900
Midsize cars Model years Price
Volkswagen Jetta sedan and wagon 2009 and newer $5,600
Volvo C30 2008 and newer $7,000
Volkswagen Passat sedan 2009 and newer $7,300
Ford Fusion 2010 and newer; built after April 2010; 2010 Fusions built before May meet "good choice" criteria $7,400
Mercury Milan 2010-11; built after April 2010; 2010 Milans built before May meet "good choice" criteria $7,400
Chrysler 200 sedan 2011 and newer $8,000
Chevrolet Malibu 2010 and newer; built after November 2009 $8,200
Volkswagen CC 2009 and newer $8,300
Audi A3 2008 and newer $8,400
Dodge Avenger 2011 and newer $8,900
Subaru Legacy 2010 and newer $9,300
Hyundai Sonata 2011 and newer $9,900
Lincoln MKZ 2010 and newer; built after April 2010 $10,000
Kia Optima 2011 and newer $10,200
Audi A4 sedan 2009 and newer $10,800
Honda Accord sedan and coupe sedan 2012 and newer; coupe 2013 and newer $10,900
Subaru Outback 2010 and newer $11,300
Toyota Camry 2012 and newer $11,300
Nissan Altima 2013 and newer $12,200
Mercedes-Benz C-Class sedan 2009-14 $12,300
Buick Verano 2012 and newer $12,400
Volvo S60 2011 and newer (price is for 2012, which had lower trim level available) $13,400
Toyota Prius v 2012 and newer $14,200
Mazda 6 2014 and newer $15,100
Acura TSX sedan and wagon 2012 and newer $16,600
Acura TL 2012 and newer; built after April 2012 $17,300
Small SUVs Model years Price
Honda Element 2007-11 $6,700
Volkswagen Tiguan 2009 and newer $7,900
Subaru Forester 2009 and newer $9,000
Mitsubishi Outlander Sport 2011 and newer $9,300
Hyundai Tucson 2010 and newer $10,400
Kia Sportage 2011 and newer $11,300
Jeep Patriot 2014 and newer $13,700
Ford Escape 2013 and newer $14,000
Mitsubishi Outlander 2014 and newer $14,400
Mazda CX-5 2013 and newer $14,800
Honda CR-V 2012 and newer $15,400
Buick Encore 2013 and newer $15,500
Toyota RAV4 2013 and newer $17,600
Nissan Rogue (except Select) 2014 and newer $18,500
Midsize SUVs Model years Price
Volvo XC90 2005 and newer $4,600
Subaru Tribeca/B9 Tribeca 2006 and newer $6,000
Dodge Journey 2010 and newer $8,700
Chevrolet Equinox 2010 and newer $11,100
Ford Flex 2010 and newer; built after January 2010 $11,700
GMC Terrain 2010 and newer $12,000
Toyota Highlander 2008 and newer $12,000
Infiniti EX 2008 and newer $12,100
Toyota Venza 2009 and newer $12,200
Kia Sorento 2011 and newer $12,300
Ford Edge 2011 and newer; built after February 2011 $13,300
Volvo XC60 2010 and newer $13,500
Ford Explorer 2011 and newer $16,200
Lincoln MKT 2010 and newer; built after March 2010 $16,200
Dodge Durango 2011 and newer $16,300
Cadillac SRX 2010 and newer $16,900
Audi Q5 2009 and newer $17,300
Jeep Cherokee 2014 and newer $17,500
Honda Crosstour 2013 and newer $17,700
Honda Pilot 2012 and newer $18,200
Jeep Grand Cherokee 2011 and newer $18,500
Mercedes-Benz GLK-Class 2011 and newer $19,100
Large SUVs Model years Price
Chevrolet Traverse 2011 and newer $13,500
GMC Acadia 2011 and newer $15,400
Buick Enclave 2011 and newer $16,100
Minivans Model years Price
Dodge Grand Caravan 2012 and newer $11,600
Volkswagen Routan 2012 and newer $11,800
Toyota Sienna 2011 and newer $13,200
Honda Odyssey 2011 and newer $13,600
Chrysler Town & Country 2012 and newer $14,600
Pickups Model years Price
Toyota Tundra extended cab (Double Cab) 2007 and newer $12,200
Ford F-150 crew cab (SuperCrew) 2011 and newer $16,800

Good choices

Vehicles on this list earn good ratings in the IIHS moderate overlap front test and good or acceptable ratings in the side test. If rated by NHTSA, they earn 4 or 5 stars overall or 4 or 5 stars in the front and side tests under the old rating scheme. They also have standard ESC and a better-than-poor rating from IIHS for head restraints and seats.

All listed vehicles start under $10,000. Prices, rounded to the nearest $100, were taken from Kelley Blue Book on Sept. 1, 2015, for the lowest trim level and earliest applicable model year based on the following criteria: vehicle in good condition, typical mileage and private party purchase in Arlington, Va.

Large cars Model years Price
Hyundai Azera 2006-11 $4,100
Audi A6 sedan 2005 and newer $6,000
Acura RL 2005-12 $6,700
Ford Taurus 2009 $7,100
Cadillac DTS 2008-11 $7,700
Mercury Sable 2009 $7,700
Chevrolet Impala 2011 and newer $8,700
Mercedes-Benz E-Class sedan 2007-09 and newer $8,800
Toyota Avalon 2009-10 $9,000
Lexus GS 2006 and newer $9,300
Cadillac CTS 2008 and newer $9,700
Midsize cars Model years Price
Saab 9-5 sedan and wagon 2005-11 $2,700
Saab 9-3 sedan and wagon 2005-11 $2,800
Hyundai Sonata 2006-10 $3,300
Volkswagen Passat sedan and wagon 2006-08 $3,400
Audi A4 sedan and wagon 2005-08; built after October 2004 $4,200
Volvo S60 2007-09 $4,400
Suzuki Kizashi 2010-13 $4,500
Mercedes-Benz C-Class sedan 2005-08 $4,600
Acura TL 2004-12 $4,800
Saturn Aura 2009 $5,500
Volvo S40 2007 and newer $5,600
Audi A3 2006-07 $5,800
BMW 3-series sedan 2006 and newer $5,900
Mazda 6 2009-13 $6,600
Mitsubishi Galant 2010-12 $6,700
Chevrolet Malibu 2009-10 $7,200
Honda Accord sedan 2008-11 $7,200
Kia Optima 2010 $7,300
Subaru Legacy 2009 $7,700
Pontiac G6 sedan 2010 $7,800
Lincoln MKZ 2009-10; built before May 2010 $8,000
Nissan Altima 2010-12 $8,100
Lexus IS 250 2006 and newer $8,500
Toyota Camry 2010-11 $8,900
Infiniti G sedan 2007 and newer $9,000
Lexus ES 350 2007 and newer $9,600
Small SUVs Model years Price
Suzuki Grand Vitara 2006-13 $3,500
Mitsubishi Outlander 2007-13 $4,600
Mazda Tribute 2009-11 $5,700
Ford Escape 2009-12 $6,100
Nissan Rogue 2008-13 $6,900
Toyota RAV4 2007-12 $7,600
Honda CR-V 2007-11 $8,300
Mercury Mariner 2009-11 $8,400
Midsize SUVs Model years Price
Suzuki XL7 2008-09 $3,600
Mazda CX-7 2007-11 $5,000
Saturn Vue 2008-09 $5,000
Ford Taurus X 2008-09 $5,700
Honda Pilot 2006-11 $6,000
Hyundai Santa Fe 2007 and newer $6,400
Mazda CX-9 2007 and newer $6,600
Hyundai Veracruz 2007-12 $7,000
Ford Edge 2007-11; built before March 2011 $7,600
Mercedes-Benz M-Class 2006 and newer $9,000
Mitsubishi Endeavor 2010-11 $9,500
Ford Explorer 2009-10 $9,600
Ford Flex 2009 $9,900
Lincoln MKX 2007 and newer $9,900
Large SUVs Model years Price
Saturn Outlook 2008-09; built after March 2008 $7,800
Mercedes-Benz R-Class 2007-12 $8,500
Minivans Model years Price
Kia Sedona 2006 and newer $3,400
Honda Odyssey 2005-10 $4,100
Hyundai Entourage 2007-08 $4,400
Chrysler Town & Country 2008-11 $5,600
Dodge Grand Caravan 2008-11 $6,200
Volkswagen Routan 2009-11 $6,300
Pickup Model years Price
Honda Ridgeline 2006-2014 $7,700

Note: Some listed models include a "built after" date. This applies when a manufacturer makes changes to improve safety in the middle of a model year. Information about when a specific vehicle was manufactured can be found on the certification label typically affixed to the driver door or near it.

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