16 but car for under $16,000


What would be the best vehicle for a son who’s 16, and was getting a new car? (less tha 100,000 miles please)


We got this question a lot. Many parents ask about a new driver’s first car, and they are all very vague about their concerns.

There is no “best” car. Auto manufacturers do not make any so-called beginners’ cars. If they did we’d all be too embarrassed to be seen in one. So the simple answer is that any 4-cylinder 4-door passenger car will serve you very well.

The ones to avoid are the high-powered or performance cars. Do not get a V6 or V8 engine.

You might consider any well-used car rather than a shiny new one. New drivers have a knack for crumpling fenders or scraping off paint, so find one that won’t show the new damage because it comes with its own scrapes already.

If you are willing to buy a new car, right off the showroom, there are a great many that would be very suitable. It would be prudent to ask your son which one he wants.


thanks for this information. i will need it.


I nominate the 1993-96 Ford Bronco. It’s safe, handles surprisingly well for such a large vehicle, cheap to insure, and burns so much gas that the 16 year old will really think long and hard about if he truley needs to go where he wants to drive to.


Steve makes several good points. You might also think about safety in size. Larger vehicles are safer since they can absorb more energy than smaller ones. You might consider a midsize car if safety is important. A used Impala, Regal, 500, Accord, or Camry fit this description as do many others. You can even get an Accord or Camry with a 4-cyl. There are several small cars than you can buy new for less than $16,000. Fit, Civic, Corolla, Yaris, Mazda3, G5, Versa, Accent, Elantra, Focus and still several others can also be bought for under $16,000. These cars are less safe as a group than midsize cars, but not unsafe. They just don’t happen to absorb energy in a crash as well as a larger car. If it were me, I’d buy a midsize with either a 4 or a 6, depending on which car.

I’d opt for a 2005-2007 Buick LaCrosse CX or an Impala LS; a great combination of price, size and comfort. I prefer the LaCrosse, but it’s up to you. Actually, you might like the LaCrosse and let him drive another car in your driveway. BTW, my kids drive a 1998 Buick Regal LS and are happy with it. They’d like a BMW better, but that’s just too bad.


so i should pretty much stay basic with the trm levels?


if he were to get new, he’d want a tundra.


I nominate the 1993-96 Ford Bronco.
A SUV is NOT a good vehicle for a new driver.


What happened to the SUV, and the jag, and the GL450?


That is probably not a good choice, because of the winter issues associated with pick ups. New, I would consider a Focus or Corolla at about $13K. We put our kids in a mid-sized vehicle, like a Chev Malibu, Buick Century, Ford Taurus, etc. It is heavy enough to withstand a car accident but still small enough to be maneuverable with a novice driver.


Although their popularity is diminishing, SUVs and trucks offer a much better view for beginning drivers. My kids seemed to have a headstart in learning to drive in my pickup trucks.


SUVs are generally much less tolerant of mistakes like entering into an exit ramp or a curve too fast. They also don’t do well in bad weather, as evidenced by the disproportionate number of them I see spun out off the highways during the winter.

I agree with those that say SUVs are only for experienced drivers.

Small economy coupes like Civics tend, in my experience, to tolerate errors better. When you hit a curve too fast and the understeer starts getting your attention they are the category that responds best to correction before going beyond the limits. And they don’t have enough power to get you into serious handling challanges on takeoff.


Any car with a 16 yr.old behind the wheel will never be safe. A “beater” would be my choice.


How about a used Saturn? They’re generally decent vehicles and he can “cut his eye teeth” in learning about maintenance and basic “wrenching” (slang for doing mechanic chores). I.M.O., something like this vehicle is a good starter car. Big enough for the 16er to get used to traffic, but not so small that he’d get squooshed. Whatever you choose, ensure that it has an Owner’s Manual with it. Early on, then you can get him a Chilton’s or Haynes repair manual for that specific year, make and model. These books contain listings for various cars out of the same basic “mold”, i.e.: a book might cover Olds Cutlass and Buick LeSabre and a similar Chevy model, whatever. Just ensure that a manual covers your make, year and model. Never too soon to get ‘young-uns’ started on maintaining their own vehicles! I wouldn’t go for a “chick” car right now. Chicks cause distractions and are a recipe for disaster. So keep that in mind, also. For prices, try www.nadaguides.com/home Then check out some “Certified Used Car” places to look at generally what condition their vehicles are in and the general prices. Then you can get into the Private Sale market. With all of this info, then you can introduce your son to the real world of used car pricing. You will probably end up with a good deal. If your son is going to pay for this vehicle, or partially pay, you can buy the vehicle for cash from a private party and have him make his portion of the payments back to you. That will also help instill in him the realities of car ownership and the related costs.


I just finished reading the Nashua Telegraph. There was a photo on the front page of two SUVs that had collided. Both rolled over.

I personally would not want my kids driving SUVs.


I agree, all you have to do is drive from denver into the mountains on a snowy day and count the number of upside-down SUVs on the side of the road. They are very easy to tip over, i’ve come close to tipping my POS jeep on dry roads because I forgot that I wasn’t driving a real car and took a corner to fast. Kids need something with a lower center of gravity.


Hey, t.s.m.b., I read the 'Smell-o-graph every day, too. Must have missed that article because I was on it much earlier. The Union Leader and Denver Post are others that I read on-line everyday. Formerly from ‘Nausea’–oops! I meant Nashua. Must have been a Freudian slip.


Any 10 year old small sedan, and put the extra money into a bank account for repairs and upkeep. If he doesn’t get a bunch of dents or otherwise trash this, then in a couple years (high school graduation perhaps) get him something nicer. An old Taurus, Crown Vic, Accord, Camry, or similar generic sedan would be my choice. Something you won’t go ballistic about if it gets wrecked.


CR has an article of recomended cars for beginning drivers…worth a look. It outlines features to look for in general as well.


An old(83-86?) Mercedes 240D. Slow enough to keep up with the 3cyl Geos and should be big enough to be decently safe in an accident.