Consumer Reports, IIHS team up to recommend used vehicle options for teens

July 30, 2020

Consumer Reports (CR) and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) are teaming up for the first time to recommend safe, reliable and affordable used vehicles for teenage drivers.

In recent years, both organizations have released lists of recommended vehicles for teens, using slightly different selection criteria. By joining forces, CR and IIHS are making it even easier for young drivers or their parents to find a vehicle that checks all the boxes for safety, performance and reliability.

Teenagers are among the riskiest drivers, but they frequently end up with vehicles that don't provide adequate protection in a crash. Often, they find themselves driving old cars that lack modern safety features like side airbags or electronic stability control (ESC). When teenagers do get behind the wheel of a new car, it's usually one of the smallest models, which don't protect as well as larger vehicles in crashes.

Reliability is another key consideration. A young driver's first car will probably need to last for years, and parents don't want their teen stranded because of a breakdown.

The list of 65 recommended used vehicles, ranging from $5,300 to $19,600, shows that safety can be both affordable and practical.

"Our focus has always been safety, as reflected in our vehicle ratings, but we recognize that a lot of other factors go into families' purchasing decisions," says IIHS President David Harkey. "This partnership with Consumer Reports will help new drivers and their parents zero in on the best used vehicles overall."

"We are delighted to be able to team up with IIHS to jointly develop a list of used vehicles for teens that deliver a smart and effective combination of safety technology and reliability, all without breaking the bank," says Jennifer Stockburger, director of operations at CR’s Auto Test Center. "Vehicles on this list can help teens stay safe as they gain driving experience."

Although the list is intended specifically for teen drivers, the organizations emphasize that it can be a resource for anyone looking for a safe, reliable and affordable used car.

Consumers who consult the list won't find any sports cars or other vehicles with excessive horsepower because these vehicles can tempt teens to test the limits. In addition, there are no minicars or vehicles under 2,750 pounds. The biggest, heaviest vehicles, including those in the large SUV class, have also been left off the list because they can be hard to handle and often have increased braking distances.

The list of recommended vehicles is divided into Good Choices and Best Choices, which offer a slightly higher level of safety. Both Good Choices and Best Choices have:

  • standard ESC
  • above-average reliability, based on CR's member survey, for the majority of the years listed
  • average or better scores from CR's emergency handling tests
  • dry braking distances of less than 145 feet from 60 mph in CR's brake tests
  • good ratings in four IIHS crashworthiness tests — moderate overlap front, side, roof strength and head restraints
  • four or five stars from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (if rated)

In addition, the Best Choices have a good or acceptable rating in the IIHS driver-side small overlap front test, which was launched in 2012. The test replicates what happens when the front left corner of a vehicle collides with another vehicle or an object like a tree or utility pole.

The top tier also excludes vehicles that have substantially higher than average insurance claim rates under medical payment or personal injury protection coverage. Both coverage types pay for injuries to occupants of the insured vehicle. The Highway Loss Data Institute, an IIHS affiliate, collects and publishes insurance loss data by make and model every year. The results are adjusted for driver age, gender and other factors that could affect risk.

"Injury claims provide another window onto safety in the real world and may capture things that crash tests don't," Harkey says.

Before buying a specific used vehicle, consumers should check for outstanding recalls and have the vehicle inspected by a qualified mechanic.

CR evaluates cars based on their performance, safety and how well they hold up over time. Its annual list of vehicles that are best suited for new or young drivers focuses on attributes most critical for less-experienced drivers.

IIHS is best known for crash tests of new vehicles and the annual TOP SAFETY PICK awards. The Institute began issuing used vehicle recommendations in 2014 after IIHS researchers found that teenagers were likely to drive very old or very small vehicles. 

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