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Choosing the best vehicle for your teen

IIHS is known for its ratings of new vehicles, but for many families, a 2014 Top Safety Pick or Top Safety Pick+ isn't in the budget for a teen's vehicle. In a national phone survey conducted for IIHS of parents of teen drivers, 83 percent of those who bought a vehicle for their teenagers said they bought it used (see background research).

With that reality in mind, the Institute has compiled a list of affordable used vehicles that meet important safety criteria for teen drivers. There are two tiers of recommended vehicles: Best choices and good choices. Prices range from less than $5,000 to nearly $20,000, so parents can buy the most safety for their money, whatever their budget.

Defining safety

The recommendations are guided by four main principles:

  • Young drivers should stay away from high horsepower. More powerful engines can tempt them to test the limits.
  • Bigger, heavier vehicles are safer. They protect better in a crash, and HLDI analyses of insurance data show that teen drivers are less likely to crash them in the first place. There are no minicars or small cars on the recommended list. Small SUVs are included because their weight is similar to that of a midsize car.
  • Electronic stability control (ESC) is a must. This feature, which helps a driver maintain control of the vehicle on curves and slippery roads, reduces risk on a level comparable to safety belts.
  • Vehicles should have the best safety ratings possible. At a minimum, that means good ratings in the IIHS moderate overlap front test, acceptable ratings in the IIHS side crash test and four or five stars from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

For more information, see "Safety rides shotgun: the best used vehicles for teen drivers" (July 16, 2014), as well as our teenagers topic section.


Best choices:
Recommended used vehicles for teens starting under $20,000

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.

Prices, rounded to the nearest $100, were taken from Kelley Blue Book on July 1, 2014, 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 CARSMODEL YEARSPRICE
Saab 9-5 sedan2010 and later$17,500
Lincoln MKS2009 and later$15,500
Buick Regal2011 and later$13,500
Ford Taurus2010 and later$13,500
Buick LaCrosse2010 and later$12,900
Volvo S802007 and later$9,000
MIDSIZE CARSMODEL YEARSPRICE
Toyota Prius v2012 and later$19,100
Mercedes-Benz C-Class sedan2009 and later$16,000
Honda Accord sedan2012 and later; coupe 2013-14$14,400
Audi A42009 and later$14,300
Toyota Camry2012 and later$14,300
Buick Verano2012 and later$14,100
Subaru Outback2010 and later$14,000
Lincoln MKZ2010 and later; built after April 2010$13,500
Kia Optima2011 and later$13,300
Hyundai Sonata2011 and later$12,100
Subaru Legacy2010 and later$11,900
Dodge Avenger2011 and later$11,600
Audi A32008 and later$11,300
Volkswagen CC2009 and later$11,200
Chevrolet Malibu2010 and later; built after November 2009$10,900
Chrysler 200 sedan2011 and later$10,700
Mercury Milan2010-11; built after April 2010$10,700
Ford Fusion2010 and later; built after April 2010$10,200
Volkswagen Passat2009 and later$10,000
Volvo C302008 and later$9,800
Volkswagen Jetta SportWagen2009 and later$9,400
Volkswagen Jetta2009 and later$8,200
SMALL SUVsMODEL YEARSPRICE
Honda CR-V2012 and later$18,100
Kia Sportage2011 and later$13,800
Hyundai Tucson2010 and later$13,100
Subaru Forester2009 and later$12,800
Mitsubishi Outlander Sport2011 and later$12,000
Volkswagen Tiguan2009 and later$10,200
Honda Element2007 and later$8,900
MIDSIZE SUVsMODEL YEARSPRICE
Volvo XC602010 and later$18,000
Saab 9-4X2011-12$17,800
Toyota Highlander2008 and later$17,100
Toyota Venza2009 and later$15,900
Ford Edge2011 and later; built after February 2011$15,500
Ford Flex2010 and later$15,100
GMC Terrain2010 and later$14,900
Kia Sorento2011 and later$14,500
Infiniti EX2008 and later$14,400
Chevrolet Equinox2010 and later$13,700
Dodge Journey2010 and later$11,200
Subaru Tribeca/B9 Tribeca2006 and later$8,500
Volvo XC902005 and later$7,300
LARGE SUVsMODEL YEARSPRICE
Buick Enclave2011 and later$19,900
GMC Acadia2011 and later$17,800
Chevrolet Traverse2011 and later$16,600
MINIVANSMODEL YEARSPRICE
Chrysler Town & Country2012 and later$18,100
Honda Odyssey2011 and later$17,100
Toyota Sienna2011 and later$16,400
Dodge Grand Caravan2012 and later$15,200
Volkswagen Routan2012$14,000

Good choices:
Recommended used vehicles for teens starting under $10,000

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 for head restraints and seats.

Prices, rounded to the nearest $100, were taken from Kelley Blue Book on July 1, 2014, 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 CARSMODEL YEARSPRICE
Acura RL2005 and later$9,700
Mercury Sable2009$9,700
Kia Amanti2009$9,500
Ford Taurus2009$9,100
Audi A6 sedan2005 and later$8,300
Hyundai Azera2006 and later$5,700
MIDSIZE CARSMODEL YEARSPRICE
Subaru Legacy2009$9,900
BMW 3-series sedan2006 and later$9,300
Mazda 62009 and later$8,900
Saturn Aura2009$8,800
Acura TL2004 and later$7,900
Volvo S402007 and later$7,700
Audi A32006-07$7,400
Mercedes-Benz C-Class sedan2005-08$6,900
Suzuki Kizashi2010 and later$6,600
Volvo S602007-09$6,500
Audi A42005-08; built after October 2004$6,200
Volkswagen Passat2006-08$5,100
Saab 9-32005 and later$4,000
SMALL SUVsMODEL YEARSPRICE
Nissan Rogue2008 and later$9,800
Ford Escape2009 and later$8,700
Mazda Tribute2009 and later$8,100
Mitsubishi Outlander2007 and later$6,300
Suzuki Grand Vitara2006 and later$5,600
MIDSIZE SUVsMODEL YEARSPRICE
Mazda CX-92007 and later$9,800
Ford Edge2007-10$9,600
Hyundai Veracruz2007 and later$9,600
Hyundai Santa Fe2007-10$8,900
Honda Pilot2006 and later$8,800
Saturn Vue2008-09$7,700
Ford Taurus X2008-09$7,500
Mazda CX-72007-11$7,200
Suzuki XL72008-09$6,200
MINIVANSMODEL YEARSPRICE
Volkswagen Routan2009-11$8,600
Dodge Grand Caravan2008-11$8,200
Chrysler Town & Country2008-11$8,100
Honda Odyssey2005-10$6,700
Hyundai Entourage2007-08$6,300
Kia Sedona2006 and later$4,600

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.


Background research

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