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Safe Car Options for a New Driver

I need help picking a good safe car for under $3000. I want something that’s older but not too old, so '94-'04 would be good. Nothing too big but not a car that’s very lightweight. Most important it should be a car made with safety as it’s higher priorities. I will need to drive this car on the freeway a lot in the near future and being a fairly new driver with little experience on the freeway, having a car I can feel safe in is important. I currently drive a 2002 Kia Rio and although it gets me where I need to go, it’s very lightweight and don’t feel comfortable using it on the freeway.

I know a Volvo is one good option but any other suggestions would be fantastic!

If you want a safe car, then try to get the 2004 and not the 1994. Safety has been steadily improving over time.

For a given year, there’s really not much difference between cars of the same size. Volvos are no safer than other cars (and they generally cost far more to maintain). This may have been true in 1970, but that was a long time ago.

I can understand that you’d be a little nervous in a car the size of the Rio. If you step up to a compact or mid-size car, you should be fine. I’d avoid an SUV, as sedans and wagons handle better in emergency maneuvers.

I know I’m going to get flamed for saying this but safety is overrated. The best safety device is a careful person, and no amount of engineering is going to change that.

Your Kia may seem lightweight and unsafe compared to say, a Suburban, but your little Kia will be able to stop, swerve, otherwise avoid a collision better than the Suburban.

Drive a bunch of cars. The one in which you FEEL most safe and comfortable driving will be the right one for you.

I doubt you could handle the repair bills for a Volvo, so forget Volvo’s in the $3.000 price range. If you want a good freeway car, Ford Crown Victoria.

A $3,000 Volvo would probably wind up costing the OP another $3k in the first year for repairs.
Plus, another $3k for repairs in year #2, and so on, and so on.

The only reason why a cheap Volvo would be exceptionally safe is that when it doesn’t start, you can’t drive it and wind up in an accident. This is one of those cases of reputations that are no longer valid, as well as the mistaken belief that “a heavy car is safer”, simply because it is heavy.

A compact car built in 2004 or later will keep you safer than most full-size cars of 1994, due to the evolution of safety-related designs over the years. Plus, as asemaster pointed out, excellent manueverability is a safety factor, and if you can steer away from a dangerous situation, that alone could save you from injury.

Anyway–I suggest that the OP look for something closer to 2004, rather than 1994–for safety reasons–and that he/she focus on Buicks, Ford Crown Victorias, and Mercury Grand Marquis automobiles.

Buick Century is my favorite choice in that price range.

Chevy Cobalt or Malibu or Ford Focus can all be had at this price range and are all good choices. Maybe something from Olds or Pontiac–parts should not be a problem.

Avoid used Volvos like the plague. There is a reason people are trying to get rid of them cheap.

Avoid Chrysler and used Korean cars. Avoid Saturn due to parts availability. Avoid second-tier Japanese (isuzu, Mitsubishi, Suzuki) Avoid VW.

Again with the Volvo reputation. In my opinion a $3,000 Volvo would be a very bad option, heck, a $15,000 Volvo would not be on my list.

As others have said, newer is better. Make sure it’s at least 1996 or newer, they have the OBD-II computer diagnostics. A mid-sized 4-door would be a good choice. Avoid all European makes.

In the martial arts they teach the best fight is the one not fought. As a motorcyclist my safety is entirely a matter of paying attention to the matter at hand. If you believe feeling “safe” reduces your risk of having an accident then you are not safe. Buy the best car you can afford, learn how to drive it and pay attention. Avoiding an accident is far better and easier than surviving one.

i believe that safety is more metel , chheck out the “Smith System” it has 5 points to been a safer driver. 1-keep your eyes moving 2- leave your shelf a out (escape route) 3-be visable ( lights on in the rain ) 4-get the big pecture of whats going on around you. can’t rember #5 my number five would be know your limets just rembered conmutacation with others no telling others there number one use your signels and don’t hang out in the no zone (the pass. side of a tractor trailer or any large vech.) but far as a safe car goes newer is better abs more air bags and even stability control is a nice thing.

Take a Crown Victoria out for a spin and see what you think…It has a FRAME under it. Tens of thousands of police and taxi’s can’t be wrong…Yes, they are a little cumbersome around town, but you said freeway safety and that’s where they excel…

The biggest safety difference is ALWAYS the driver.
As a new driver, we can’t know the extent of your training but Marc has the key ( aside from spelling :wink: ). Things you may or may not have learned directly during new driver training .

I googled ‘‘smith system of driving’’ and see several good hits to read.

Any vehicle can be safe on the freeway, but I like my trucks because they’re taller than most cars and I can see the world from up there.
Since you’re new to freeway driving, there’s the caveat.
There’s a whole slew of advice but mostly you have to learn from experience.
Like learning to ‘‘read’’ the other drivers and the ever changing situations.
PLAN AHEAD and leave lots of room for other’s oddball movements. Especially on freeways with an exit/on-ramp every mile, there’s a multitude of activity associated with vehicles entering and preparing to exit all around you even if you’re not ready yet.

–Go with the flow.-- sometimes means getting over to the fast/left lane to allow the space and time for everyone who is lane changing coming on and preparing to get off. That method often makes for a smoother drive as you have less action to avoid or compensate for.
Then , a couple exits ahead of yours, you begin lane changes…one at a time…to prepare for your exit.

This method serves me well in Albuquerque on I40 & I25 and I’ve never had issues.

Let’s see, you have a maximum price set at $3,000. That SEVERELY limits your options. In that price range, any car you can find that’s in good mechanical shape will be far safer than the beaters you’re going to encounter. Have any car you consider gone over carefully by your mechanic, and get the one that’s in the best shape.

To quote George Carlin:
“First you learn to drive THEN you get a safe car”

Nothing like a false sense of security to lull a person to do stupid things

Look at what is available, after you have selected a few candidates, go here to see how they tested.

The iihs started testing in 1996 but most manufacturers did not incorporate the requirements for this testing until the 2000 model year and not all models saw the results until years later. If I recall correctly, one of the Buick models and one Cadillac model were one of the first to get a good rating.

I tend to think you won’t find anything for $3,000 that’s much safer than what you’ve got.
Couple of points:

  1. one-half of all fatal accidents are single-vehicle. That means if you just keep your car on the road and right side up, you are ahead of the game. Maintain your vehicle well (particularly tires, brakes and suspension); drive at a safe speed for conditions; and pay attention to your driving–not to your cell phone your fast food meal, or whatever.
  2. The others have given some good advice. Stay alert to what’s around you, keep a safe following distance (yes, it can be done, even in Los Angeles or San Francisco), and anticipate what’s going to happen.
  3. If and when you do decide to get a new car, Consumer Reports Used Car buying guide has a wealth of info on car choices, safety and reliability ratings, and so forth. Vehicle to avoid: pickup trucks (rear wheel drive, which can be tricky, and inherently unstable), certain SUVs (e.g. Ford Explorer/Bronco) that tip over easily, and rear wheel drive cars, which can oversteer easily. Look for a midsize or full-size car with good handling and braking characteristics.

There will always be a bigger car on the road. Even if you drive a truck, there will be military transport on the road. learn to look ahead, plan ahead, leave an escape route, and avoid whatever that comes your way.