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Choosing the best vehicle for your teen

Updated November 1, 2018

IIHS is known for its ratings of new vehicles, but for many families, a brand new 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 regularly publishes 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 $2,000 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, side, roof strength and head restraint tests and four or five stars from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

Check for recalls

Use the Vehicle Identification Number to check for outstanding recalls before buying a used vehicle. To receive future recall notices, notify the manufacturer of your purchase. NHTSA also advises vehicle owners to check its database for new recalls every six months or so.

For more information, see "No small decision: IIHS used car lists help families choose safer, larger vehicles" (November 2018).


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 and good or acceptable ratings in the driver-side small overlap front 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. All come with standard ESC.

Vehicles with substantially higher than average claim frequency under medical payment or personal injury protection coverage are excluded from this list.

All listed vehicles start under $20,000. Prices, provided by Kelley Blue Book and rounded to the nearest $100, are from Sept. 15, 2018, for the lowest trim level and earliest applicable model year. The estimates are based on the following criteria: vehicle in good condition, typical mileage and private party purchase in Arlington, Va.

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.

Midsize cars Model years Price
Volkswagen Passat 2013 and newer; built after October 2012 $6,600
Volvo S60 2011 and newer $7,900
Ford Fusion 2013 and newer; built after December 2012 $8,100
Subaru Legacy 2013 and newer; built after October 2012 $8,300
Honda Accord coupe 2013 and newer $8,900
Volkswagen Jetta 2015 and newer $8,900
Mazda 6 2014 and newer $9,000
Honda Accord sedan 2013 and newer $9,400
Subaru Outback 2013 and newer; built after August 2012 $10,300
Acura TL 2012-14; built after April 2012 $10,700
Lincoln MKZ 2013 and newer $11,900
Toyota Prius v 2015 and newer $14,700
Volvo V60 2015 and newer $14,800
Audi A3 2015 and newer $15,000
Acura TLX 2015; 2017 and newer $16,500
BMW 2 series coupe 2015 and newer $18,600
Infiniti Q50 2014 and newer $18,600
Large cars Model years Price
Volvo S80 2007 and newer
$3,900
Ford Taurus 2013 and newer $10,000
Chevrolet Impala 2015 and newer $13,200
Infiniti M37/Q70 2013 and newer $14,400
Toyota Avalon 2015 and newer $17,500
Acura RLX 2014 and newer $18,600
Buick LaCrosse 2017 and newer $19,800
Small SUVs Model years Price
Mazda CX-5 2014 and newer; built after October 2013 $10,700
Fiat 500X 2016 and newer; built after July 2015 $11,300
Nissan Rogue 2014 and newer $11,500
Subaru Forester 2014 and newer $12,000
Buick Encore 2015 and newer $12,300
Honda CR-V 2015 and newer $13,500
Ford Escape 2017 and newer $14,600
Toyota RAV4 2015 and newer; built after November 2014 $14,800
Hyundai Tucson 2016 and newer $15,100
Mazda CX-3 2016 and newer $15,100
Kia Sportage 2017 and newer $15,900
Midsize SUVs Model years Price
Volvo XC90 2005 and newer $3,700
Ford Flex 2011 and newer $8,700
Chevrolet Equinox 2014 and newer $11,700
GMC Terrain 2014 and newer $12,900
Volvo XC60 2013 and newer $12,900
Kia Sorento 2016 and newer $15,900
Nissan Pathfinder 2015 and newer $16,300
Nissan Murano 2015 and newer $17,200
Ford Edge 2016 and newer $17,600
Toyota Highlander 2014 and newer $17,600
Hyundai Santa Fe Sport 2017 and newer $17,700
Acura MDX 2014 and newer $19,600
Hyundai Santa Fe 2017 and newer; built after March 2016 $19,800
Minivans Model years Price
Honda Odyssey 2014 and newer $12,700
Kia Sedona 2015 and newer $12,800
Toyota Sienna 2015 and newer $17,500
Small Pickup Model years Price
Toyota Tacoma Access cab 2016 and newer $18,100
Large Pickup Model years Price
Toyota Tundra Double Cab 2014 and newer $19,000

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

Vehicles on this list earn good ratings in the IIHS moderate overlap front, 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 $10,000. Prices, provided by Kelley Blue Book and rounded to the nearest $100, are from Sept. 15, 2018, for the lowest trim level and earliest applicable model year. The estimates are based on the following criteria: vehicle in good condition, typical mileage and private party purchase in Arlington, Va.

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.

Midsize cars Model years Price
Volkswagen Jetta sedan or wagon 2009-14 $3,800
Volkswagen Passat sedan or wagon 2009-12 $4,300
Volkswagen CC 2009 and newer $4,700
Chevrolet Malibu 2010 and newer; built after November 2009 $4,900
Ford Fusion 2011-12 $4,900
Subaru Legacy 2010-12 $4,900
Audi A3 2008-13 $5,000
Volvo C30 2008-13 $5,100
Hyundai Sonata 2011 and newer $5,400
Audi A4 sedan or wagon 2009 and newer $6,100
Kia Optima 2011 and newer $6,200
Subaru Outback 2010-12 $6,200
Mercedes-Benz C-Class sedan 2009 and newer $6,900
Honda Accord sedan 2012 $7,300
Lincoln MKZ 2011-12 $7,700
Buick Verano 2012-15 $8,000
Toyota Camry 2012 and newer $8,600
Nissan Altima sedan 2013 and newer; built after November 2012 $8,900
Toyota Prius v 2012-14 $9,100
BMW 3 series sedan 2012 and newer $9,900
Large cars Model years Price
Buick LaCrosse 2010-16 $6,200
Ford Taurus 2010-12 $6,500
Buick Regal 2011-17 $6,800
Saab 9-5 2010-11 $7,100
Lincoln MKS 2009-16 $7,400
Cadillac CTS sedan 2011 and newer $8,300
Hyundai Azera 2012 and newer $8,400
Hyundai Genesis sedan 2011 and newer $8,600
Dodge Charger 2011 and newer $8,800
Chrysler 300 2011 and newer $8,900
Toyota Avalon 2011-14 $9,300
Small SUVs Model years Price
Honda Element 2007-11 $4,400
Volkswagen Tiguan 2009 and newer $5,100
Mitsubishi Outlander Sport 2011 and newer $5,600
Subaru Forester 2009-13 $5,600
Hyundai Tucson 2010-15 $5,900
Kia Sportage 2011-16 $6,600
Ford Escape 2013-16 $8,900
Mitsubishi Outlander 2014 and newer $9,300
Mazda CX-5 2013 $9,500
Buick Encore 2013-14 $9,700
Honda CR-V 2012 and newer $9,700
Midsize SUVs Model years Price
Subaru Tribeca/B9 Tribeca 2006-14 $4,100
Dodge Journey 2010 and newer $5,100
Hyundai Santa Fe 2011-16 $6,500
Chevrolet Equinox 2011-13 $7,100
Toyota Venza 2009-15 $7,300
Volvo XC60 2010-12 $7,400
Infiniti EX 2008-13 $7,700
Toyota Highlander 2008-13 $8,100
GMC Terrain 2011-13 $8,200
Kia Sorento 2012-15 $8,300
Audi Q5 2009 and newer $9,700
Ford Edge 2012 and newer $9,900
Ford Explorer 2011 and newer $9,900
Large SUV Model years Price
Chevrolet Traverse 2012-17 $9,300
Minivans Model years Price
Volkswagen Routan 2012 $6,400
Dodge Grand Caravan 2012 and newer $7,400
Honda Odyssey 2011-13 $8,100
Chrysler Town & Country 2012-16 $8,600
Toyota Sienna 2011-14 $9,000
Large Pickup Model years Price
Toyota Tundra Double Cab 2007-13 $8,600

Background research

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