Purchasing a used car for a teen


I’m in the market for a car for my teenage daughter. Does anyone have any tips to follow when searching for a used, cheap and safe car?


Call your insurance agent. The type of car can make a difference in the cost of insurance. Dodge Neon’s are cheap, but need repairs. Not bad for safety, but like most small cars less safe than bigger ones.

How cheap is cheap? The less you spend the more likely you’ll need things like tires, brakes, exhaust systems etc. A check engine light on a cheap used car and make it “uncheap” real quick.

Old Honda’s and Toyota’s hold up good, but are not cheap compared to domestic brands. Stay away from VW and all European brands, they are expensive and need more frequent repairs.

Climate urban vs suburban vs rural roads, any special considerations and define cheap; $3,000-$5,000-$10,000. Here at car talk we are picky-picky-picky.

Older Corollas are my recommendation. We had three for our kids and they wore like iron, even in their old age. Any car built in the last ten years will be as safe as the operator wants to make them. Safe driving technique should be a hedge that will allow you to choose more economical compacts instead of tanks.

Safety first, teens have high accident rates. Get one with side airbags. Here’s a site that combines the various rankings into an overall score.

When I was a teenager I had to drive my Dad’s 1990 Dodge W250 4x4. Gas Mileage on it was terrible but it was built like a tank, then I finally saved up enough money to buy own car, then my brother inherited the Dodge and he beat the crap out of it but it continued to run like a champ. It was still running good with 300K miles on it when my Dad traded it in 2009 for a brand new Dodge Pickup, this time a cummins turbo diesel. I’m not suggesting a Gas Guzzling old Dodge truck but they are pretty safe. A good safe car for a teenager would be a 2006 Chevy Malibu.

After insurance (you insurance agent) and reliability (ConsumerReports) … fuel economy is probably 3rd on the list.

To search fuel economy by year (1984 to present), make, type, transmission, etc … use


This will display up to 300 matches to search criteria. It will also give you “USER MPG Experience Estimates” if the data is available.

IF you have a specific make and model in mind … you can check “USER MPG Experience Estimates” here

http://www.fueleconomy.gov/mpg/MPG.do?action=browseList This will display all model years.

And www.fueleconomy.gov now has a mobile APP to provide a fuel economy log. See https://www.fueleconomy.gov/mpg/MPG.do?action=garage

pick 2 of the 3 choices. A cheap car might not be very safe. While a safe used car might not be very cheap.

As big of a pain in the neck as my 1999 Chevy Malibu was, that car was safe. It was definitely designed to take a beating. I got into an accident with my old Malibu once, I rearended a Ford Expedition and well you can imagine which car was more badly damaged…Mine! But when I had it taken to the body shop and they examined the car to give my insurance company the estimate, the technician told me the frame sustained no damage and the only thing that needed to be replaced on the car was the bumper and front grill and the hood just needed to be straightened out. I rearended the Expedition which was at a complete stop going 45mph and both vehichles sustained the impact, no injuries, and no severe damage. So, I’d say the Malibus would be a safe bet for a teenager. Just stay away from the ones built before 2003. The ones built after 2003 got good ratings as far as reliability.

After all of the above…
You clearly state ;
If you want something to drive, you’ll take whatever I buy.
If you want a status symbol to show off…YOU buy it.

My daughter accepted the used GSA motor pool Ranger we got her first. At first sight she was aghast that it was a manual shift…"what am I gonna do ? I don’t know the stick shift ! "
"Well I guess you’ll just learn since it’s what you have to drive now."
My dad took her under his tutorial and she learned in short order two big lessons, stick shift not withstanding ; acceptance of life’s un-anticipated curve balls …and… off-the-cuff / seat-of-the-pants situational adaptation.

Consider some driving instructions by a good school (a local car club might have some suggestions) with the money you save by buying cheaper and used.

And think about buying the car for YOU, not her, so that if she decides to do something continually stupid, she has the right to walk where she wants to go – keys are not an entitlement but something earned continually. My sister had major problems when she let her out-of-control teenager “take over” a car. Check this out with your insurance provider and price out the options.