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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 2016 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 about $3,000 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 "Safe and affordable: updated used-vehicle recommendations for teens" (October 2015) and "Safety rides shotgun: the best used vehicles for teen drivers" (July 2014), as well as our teenagers topic section.


Best used vehicle choices for teens

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 carsModel yearsPrice
Volvo S802007 and newer$5,800
Ford Taurus2010 and newer$10,900
Buick LaCrosse2010 and newer$11,300
Buick Regal2011 and newer$11,500
Lincoln MKS2009 and newer$12,300
Toyota Avalon2011 and newer$15,700
Hyundai Azera2012 and newer$16,800
Mercedes-Benz E-Class sedan and coupe2010 and newer$19,000
Infiniti M37/M56/Q702011 and newer$19,900
Midsize carsModel yearsPrice
Volkswagen Jetta sedan and wagon2009 and newer$5,600
Volvo C302008 and newer$7,000
Volkswagen Passat sedan2009 and newer$7,300
Ford Fusion2010 and newer; built after April 2010; 2010 Fusions built before May meet "good choice" criteria$7,400
Mercury Milan2010-11; built after April 2010; 2010 Milans built before May meet "good choice" criteria$7,400
Chrysler 200 sedan2011 and newer$8,000
Chevrolet Malibu2010 and newer; built after November 2009$8,200
Volkswagen CC2009 and newer$8,300
Audi A32008 and newer$8,400
Dodge Avenger2011 and newer$8,900
Subaru Legacy2010 and newer$9,300
Hyundai Sonata2011 and newer$9,900
Lincoln MKZ2010 and newer; built after April 2010$10,000
Kia Optima2011 and newer$10,200
Audi A4 sedan2009 and newer$10,800
Honda Accord sedan and coupesedan 2012 and newer; coupe 2013 and newer$10,900
Subaru Outback2010 and newer$11,300
Toyota Camry2012 and newer$11,300
Nissan Altima2013 and newer$12,200
Mercedes-Benz C-Class sedan2009-14$12,300
Buick Verano2012 and newer$12,400
Volvo S602011 and newer (price is for 2012, which had lower trim level available)$13,400
Toyota Prius v2012 and newer$14,200
Mazda 62014 and newer$15,100
Acura TSX sedan and wagon2012 and newer$16,600
Acura TL2012 and newer; built after April 2012$17,300
Small SUVsModel yearsPrice
Honda Element2007-11$6,700
Volkswagen Tiguan2009 and newer$7,900
Subaru Forester2009 and newer$9,000
Mitsubishi Outlander Sport2011 and newer$9,300
Hyundai Tucson2010 and newer$10,400
Kia Sportage2011 and newer$11,300
Jeep Patriot2014 and newer$13,700
Ford Escape2013 and newer$14,000
Mitsubishi Outlander2014 and newer$14,400
Mazda CX-52013 and newer$14,800
Honda CR-V2012 and newer$15,400
Buick Encore2013 and newer$15,500
Toyota RAV42013 and newer$17,600
Nissan Rogue (except Select)2014 and newer$18,500
Midsize SUVsModel yearsPrice
Volvo XC902005 and newer$4,600
Subaru Tribeca/B9 Tribeca2006 and newer$6,000
Dodge Journey2010 and newer$8,700
Chevrolet Equinox2010 and newer$11,100
Ford Flex2010 and newer; built after January 2010$11,700
GMC Terrain2010 and newer$12,000
Toyota Highlander2008 and newer$12,000
Infiniti EX2008 and newer$12,100
Toyota Venza2009 and newer$12,200
Kia Sorento2011 and newer$12,300
Ford Edge2011 and newer; built after February 2011$13,300
Volvo XC602010 and newer$13,500
Ford Explorer2011 and newer$16,200
Lincoln MKT2010 and newer; built after March 2010$16,200
Dodge Durango2011 and newer$16,300
Cadillac SRX2010 and newer$16,900
Audi Q52009 and newer$17,300
Jeep Cherokee2014 and newer$17,500
Honda Crosstour2013 and newer$17,700
Honda Pilot2012 and newer$18,200
Jeep Grand Cherokee2011 and newer$18,500
Mercedes-Benz GLK-Class2011 and newer$19,100
Large SUVsModel yearsPrice
Chevrolet Traverse2011 and newer$13,500
GMC Acadia2011 and newer$15,400
Buick Enclave2011 and newer$16,100
MinivansModel yearsPrice
Dodge Grand Caravan2012 and newer$11,600
Volkswagen Routan2012 and newer$11,800
Toyota Sienna2011 and newer$13,200
Honda Odyssey2011 and newer$13,600
Chrysler Town & Country2012 and newer$14,600
PickupsModel yearsPrice
Toyota Tundra crew cab (Double Cab)2007 and newer$12,200
Ford F-150 crew cab (SuperCrew)2011 and newer$16,800

Good used vehicle choices for teens

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 carsModel yearsPrice
Hyundai Azera2006-11$4,100
Audi A6 sedan2005 and newer$6,000
Acura RL2005-12$6,700
Ford Taurus2009$7,100
Cadillac DTS2008-11$7,700
Mercury Sable2009$7,700
Chevrolet Impala2011 and newer$8,700
Mercedes-Benz E-Class sedan2007-09 and newer$8,800
Toyota Avalon2009-10$9,000
Lexus GS2006 and newer$9,300
Cadillac CTS2008 and newer$9,700
Midsize carsModel yearsPrice
Saab 9-5 sedan and wagon2005-11$2,700
Saab 9-3 sedan and wagon2005-11$2,800
Hyundai Sonata2006-10$3,300
Volkswagen Passat sedan and wagon2006-08$3,400
Audi A4 sedan and wagon2005-08; built after October 2004$4,200
Volvo S602007-09$4,400
Suzuki Kizashi2010-13$4,500
Mercedes-Benz C-Class sedan2005-08$4,600
Acura TL2004-12$4,800
Saturn Aura2009$5,500
Volvo S402007 and newer$5,600
Audi A32006-07$5,800
BMW 3-series sedan2006 and newer$5,900
Mazda 62009-13$6,600
Mitsubishi Galant2010-12$6,700
Chevrolet Malibu2009-10$7,200
Honda Accord sedan2008-11$7,200
Kia Optima2010$7,300
Subaru Legacy2009$7,700
Pontiac G6 sedan2010$7,800
Lincoln MKZ2009-10; built before May 2010$8,000
Nissan Altima2010-12$8,100
Lexus IS 2502006 and newer$8,500
Toyota Camry2010-11$8,900
Infiniti G sedan2007 and newer$9,000
Lexus ES 3502007 and newer$9,600
Small SUVsModel yearsPrice
Suzuki Grand Vitara2006-13$3,500
Mitsubishi Outlander2007-13$4,600
Mazda Tribute2009-11$5,700
Ford Escape2009-12$6,100
Nissan Rogue2008-13$6,900
Toyota RAV42007-12$7,600
Honda CR-V2007-11$8,300
Mercury Mariner2009-11$8,400
Midsize SUVsModel yearsPrice
Suzuki XL72008-09$3,600
Mazda CX-72007-11$5,000
Saturn Vue2008-09$5,000
Ford Taurus X2008-09$5,700
Honda Pilot2006-11$6,000
Hyundai Santa Fe2007 and newer$6,400
Mazda CX-92007 and newer$6,600
Hyundai Veracruz2007-12$7,000
Ford Edge2007-11; built before March 2011$7,600
Mercedes-Benz M-Class2006 and newer$9,000
Mitsubishi Endeavor2010-11$9,500
Ford Explorer2009-10$9,600
Ford Flex2009$9,900
Lincoln MKX2007 and newer$9,900
Large SUVsModel yearsPrice
Saturn Outlook2008-09; built after March 2008$7,800
Mercedes-Benz R-Class2007-12$8,500
MinivansModel yearsPrice
Kia Sedona2006 and newer$3,400
Honda Odyssey2005-10$4,100
Hyundai Entourage2007-08$4,400
Chrysler Town & Country2008-11$5,600
Dodge Grand Caravan2008-11$6,200
Volkswagen Routan2009-11$6,300
PickupModel yearsPrice
Honda Ridgeline2006-2014$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.


Background research

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