Best of Deals Car Reviews Repair Shops Cars A-Z Radio Show

Safe used car for kid

Hello all, this is my first post here.

I need to get my 19year old daughter a “new” used car. Her current 2005 Subaru Impreza is at 180k and is destined to be her 16 year old brother’s first ride.

It is a stick shift and if possible, we want to continue buying stick shifts for our kids. (Easy anti-theft, extra driving cred among peers, also requires more attention to driving and commitment to learning about the car, imho).

The horrific accident videos in Fort Worth last week have me obsessed about safety. (I know, I know, why wasn’t it the #1 priority before…well, stupid me, but anyway, that’s all that’s in my head right now.) I was looking at another subcompact, maybe a Kia Soul or Mazda 3, they’re both sticks. But I’m worried and I know statistically I should worry about everything else other than a monster crash like last week. I guess it’s just human nature. Can’t get the videos out of my head. The SUVs and pickups I saw seemed to do much better in the aftermath; the sedans were what I saw in tiny crushed pieces.

I’m sorry to be so nervous. I have a bit of trauma left over from a crash of my own and that’s not helping me.

Long-winded way of saying: what’s my best bet for a safe and reliable stick shift that has some heft around the gear stick?

Our budget was $5k cash but now I’m ready to take out a car loan for twice that or even more to get something safe.

Thanks for any and all advice.

1 Like

I can’t agree that a manual transmission is best for a young driver besides there are so few being made now that the resale of a manual is low. Best for a young driver ? Almost any decent vehicle made in the last 20 years except high powered sports type .

Also if the owner becomes ill the chance of their passenger being able to drive them home in a manual is low. The main safety factor is the driver .


Our daughter picked out a used soul, she is happy with it. 2020 is highly rated, you would have to check the year you are looking at.

Let’s not kid ourselves here. The most important “safety feature” of any car isn’t assembled at the factory–it’s the person driving the car. If you pay attention and drive with common sense, even a 20 or 30 year old car can be as safe as anything else on the road (assuming the car is in decent condition). If you fail to wear your seat belt, drive aggressively, play with your cellphone while driving, fail to anticipate what other drivers will do, even the latest and greatest new model will be a death trap.

When I started driving, everyone I knew started out with an economy car from the 1980s to early 1990s (this was in 1996 btw). Cellphones did not exist back then, and we survived with minimal “safety features” by exercising reasonable caution and common sense. Now I am not suggesting you buy your kid a 28 year old Ford Tempo or a 30 year old Dodge Shadow, but I would argue that anything made in the decade from 1999 to 2009 is plenty safe, as well as affordable to buy and maintain.

I would also recommend buying something with an automatic transmission. There is really no benefit to driving a stick-shift on anything other than a sports car, which would not be good for a young person anyways.

Larger is safer. If safety is top on your list I’d go up a size, to Camry/Accord.

Agree. There is no “safe” vehicle for a teenager but the best safety feature is the driver. You can only hope when they put it in the ditch, hit the tree, or tip it over, they will be wearing their seat belt and not be injured. (You may not find out about this until years later.) Also disagree on the transmission. My Morris and VW were manuals as a teenager but automatics after that. I really see absolutely no difference but if anything, having to coordinate the clutch and gear shift detracts from watching the road. Good point on theft though and the recent rash of car jackings. Around here they are working ing teams of 2-4 where one person will rob the driver and the other will steal the car. You’d still get robbed or shot but the car would be OK.

Thief can’t drive a manual so he might not be able to steal it but he might be annoyed enough to slash tires or some other kind of damage . Just have insurance .

Well, humbug. I still think manual transmission cars are a plus.

Besides the anti-theft, there’s the, er, transmission. I’ve had three auto trannys go on me (two Chevys and one Toyota, fwiw.) I think manuals are more long-lived as long as the driver isn’t a clutch mangler. Plus, I’ve pop-started a ton of cars that I wouldn’t have been able to get running again to get to the repair shop if they’d been autos.

But I will agree that it makes for a harder search. Resale doesn’t matter to us; we drive all our cars to the death. Our newest current car is a 2010.

And yes, obviously the driver is the most important factor. But all those sitting ducks being slammed into last week by 18-wheelers couldn’t drive their way out of it. Hence my search for something that might give my kid a better chance of survivability in the worst-case scenario.

So I’m not getting the sense that anyone here thinks any car is more safe than another, just maybe the size? Clearly the newest cars have the most safety doo-dads. But a new car isn’t in the budget. If you’re looking at the 2010 era, nothing leaps out at you as any more safe and reliable than anything else?

1 Like

Ultimately, if you are being threatened by armed assailants, it is best to attempt to flee. Giving up whatever they are trying to rob you of does not guarantee that you will be unharmed, and attempting to flee does not guarantee that you will die. If someone attempts to rob me at gunpoint, I am taking the calculated risk that they either won’t pull the trigger, or the bullet(s) won’t hit me, or the wound(s) will be survivable, and I’m attempting to flee. That risk may or may not pay off, but cooperating with a criminal may or may not pay off either.

Google ‘car safety ratings’ and you’ll find lots of info.

1 Like

I have broken a bunch of manuals but only two clutches. Never broken an automatic. I doubt you could pop start a modern fuel injected car unless the battery was showing 10 volts or so. You need that much to operate the fuel pump, ecu and injectors.

That said, the driver is the biggest safety item. A defensive driving course for young drivers would be worth its weignt in gold. Look for one that uses a “skid car” to teach handling and braking with and without ABS.


The insistence on a stick shift is completely unnecessary in a world where the internal combustion engine is rapidly disappearing as a source of propulsion. In a few years knowing how to operate a manual transmission will be as relevant as an engineer knowing how to use a slide rule.


OK then. Thanks everyone, but I’ll look elsewhere then, as I’m not getting any useful information here.

You aren’t getting the answer you want… but you are getting useful information.

Manual transmissions, as already posted, are no longer available in the bigger cars. What you want is a unicorn… a mythical creature.


If you can find a car with a manual transmission that meets the other requirements then do so, my brother’s holding onto a 2006 Subaru Legacy and a 2009 VW GTi partially to have at least one car that his kids can learn stick shifting on. Even when the manual was an option on dealer lots one dealer told a friend that he was the 2nd person in a year to even ask about one.

I work with someone who once wrote a tank you letter to Nissan after driving past the wreckage of his sons then 12yr old 1993 Nissan Sentra that had been rear ended while stopped in traffic by a 1/2 ton pickup doing 45-50mph and shoved into the car ahead so the front and rear ends had crumpled but the passenger compartment had held up well except for the pedal box moving and breaking the kid’s ankle. Eventually replaced that car with a 1999 Ford Escort ZX2 with their limited budget and at last report the son had moved on into a newer Mazda but roughly the same size.

My co-worker still drives the 1st gen Mazda3 manual he bought off craigslist years ago that now has 225,000 miles and other than replacing the starter a year ago hasn’t needed more than regular services.

1 Like

Like I said, in Minneapolis they are working in teams of 2-4 with another car or two for transport. One thing they have done is use one of the cars to block the street to prevent fleeing. Hitting gas stations, parking lots, side streets where people might be distracted, and the old rear end bump. Current new reality.

In Minnesota I haven’t heard of what accident happened in Texas, but if it is a car going up against and 18 wheeler, not much will be a match. Freeway accidents are not unheard of though here but there are defensive driving practices that can help to reduce the possibility of getting trapped. Things like being aware of what is happening behind you and if stopped, allowing enough room before the next car to be able to pull to the side if a rear end accident is immanent. Sadly much of this is not taught in driver’s training classes but insurance companies do offer it.

I’m not sure if they have published such a list recently, but in the past Consumer Reports used to publish a list of used cars that were “safer” for young drivers. The OP might want to do an online search for one of those lists, but he also has to bear in mind that CR found no correlation between the type of transmission and the relative safety of those cars.

I guess if the 2005 Subaru is safe enough for the 16 year old then Ivrout should look for another one for the 19 year old . Problem solved .


When helping a friend look for a car with a manual transmission, I was surprised to learn how much worse the fuel economy was on some of them, so that’s a consideration too.


Larger is safer, period. Large cars, trucks, and SUVs don’t have manual transmissions. You also can’t afford large vehicles unless you get something about 10 years old. You have to decide how to prioritize what you want, and then see what you can find with the attributes you want. If we just consider really large vehicles, a Chevy Suburban would be on the list, but it would have to be 15 years old to get down to $5000. Maybe you can find surplus vehicles from a government agency. They will be very high mileage and might need work. Around me, I don’t think citizens can bid on anything that can’t be registered without minor work. That’s certainly the way it is at public auctions, and I imagine government ones are the same. No one can help you with the information you presented, even though we want to. If you work with us, we can help.