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Suggestions For Used Cars for New Driver

We are looking into used cars for our 16-year old son…what do you suggest for safety and reliability?

Search “car for 16 year old” on this Community site to get started.

Good basic cars are Huyndai Accent, Honda Civic, Toyota Yaris, Nissan Sentra. Also Hyundai Elantra, Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, Mazda 3.

Basic equipement models recommended; avoid “sports” models and ones with turbo engines.

I usually agree with Docnick, but I am going to disagree with him on this issue.

IMHO, because young drivers are involved in an inordinately high percentage of the accidents nationwide (either from inexperience, or from being too aggressive behind the wheel, or being distracted, or…) I think it is important to surround them with as much mass as possible. The cars that Doc mentioned are indeed good ones, but they would fare poorly in a collision with a large car, or a truck, or an immovable object.

My recommendations include…
Ford Crown Victoria or Mercury Grand Marquis (same car, different badges)
Buick LeSabre
Buick Lacrosse
Chevy Caprice

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) recommends midsize and larger cars, SUVs, and minivans. They have a list of these under $20,000 and under $10,000. Here is the article:

These recommendations are based on safety only. You should avoid the Saabs since the company is out of business. Bigger is safer, but bigger is also harder to manage in tight situations. I would go for the newest car from the list in the best condition and within your price range. Luxury cars are going to be older to fit your price range and you should cross them off the list unless you can easily afford it.

The Budget for this would help narrow it down but taking in @jtsanders suggestion and past experience from various family members and suggest a Honda Accord/Toyota Camry/Mazda6 or possibly the Nissan Altima.

Various family members have crash tested Accords without meaning to and every one from a 1986 sedan on has performed very well. I’m including a multiple rollover and another that was rear ended at a stop by a dump truck. Crown Vic’s and other big cars are great but also might be just a little too much for a new driver to be comfortable with.

Bigger cars typically cost more and use more fuel. Yes, they’re somewhat safer, but the kid’s driving habits and skills are more important than the size of his car. That said, you can probably buy him a mid-sized car for about the same as one of the more popular compacts. A Ford Fusion (4 cylinder) would be a good choice. They are very common, not very expensive, and quite reliable. It’s not at all sporty so isn’t likely to tempt him into anything extra stupid. The Accord and Camry are the most popular in the category, but also carry high resale values. Others that are good cars and cheaper are the Mazda6 (close relative of the Fusion), Nissan Altima, Hyundai Sonata and related Kia Optima. The Subaru Legacy/Outback have all-wheel-drive, but also cost more and are expensive to fix if some part of that awd system fails. I’d stay away unless you’re in somewhere with extreme winters.

If you think his driving skills are decent and he’s not likely to do something stupid there are loads of good compacts and subcompacts. Too many to list all the good ones, but favorites of mine include the Mazda3, Hyundai Elantra, and the little Honda Fit. Of course there is nothing wrong with a Corolla or Civic, either, but they are more expensive and no better. The Scion xB and xD combine Toyota reliability with lower prices (because they’re branded as Scions).

That list from iihs is pretty informative, but gotta say, as a parent of a recently 18 yr old that is getting her license next week, I am getting a reality check as far as prices go. I was hoping the hand her down the 2005 Camry and get another beater for myself. I guess that is not the safest path.

@galant, I would not worry about giving your daughter the Camry. It got good (highest) ratings for moderate from overlap crash and side crash with the side air bags, and marginal for head restraints and seats. It does have a poor side impact rating if you don’t have the optional side air bags. The likelihood of an accident is higher for new drivers, but even without the side air bags I would give it to her if she were my child. Assuming, of course, that she won’t race it. That is mostly a boy thing, but some girls drive fast and take chances too.

yeah, young girls don t race, but they do drive like they are late to dinner and see stop signs as suggestions not rules if they are in a hurry, and they always are…

not all girls, but the ones I see leaving the high school when I pick my daughter up are driving like jackrabbits

That’s what I meant by racing, @wesw. I just didn’t feel like typing out other ways to be in a hurry.

I suggest big, ugly and slow cars

That might discourage demon driving

I’m one of four, now in my fifties, and none of us has ever been involved in a two-car accident. We were all very careful drivers (three of us were boys.) You know your kid. You have some idea of his driving skills. You know (or should) his friends and whether they’re mature and sensible or screwups. There are kids who would wreck a Humvee and others who will be responsible drivers no matter what they’re in. If you really want to improve their odds enroll them in a good driving class, the kind taught in real cars and teaching how to control a car in all sorts of conditions. A good one won’t be cheap, but your kid will learn things he’ll never forget and be a better driver immediately.

Two things I looked at: the Consumer Reports car buyers guide, and this web site that puts all the safety ratings on a common basis:

Bigger is better regarding safety, so I’d go with an intermediate 4 door with a 4 cylinder engine, Camry, Accord, Fusion, Altima, Sonata (if newer). Side air bags were mandatory for me, they make a real difference in safety.

Bigger cars are probably safer. But maybe a big car isn’t what you son wants. If he doesn’t like it, it’s not going to make for a good match. Most of the modern (post 1996) econoboxes are pretty safe, much safer than bigger cars of years prior. Rather than just going for big, I’d ask him his opinion on what cars he likes that he sees as you are going down the road. Try to get one in the color he likes. Then choose one of those, but here’s the important part: Pick the version with the smallest HP engine available. The one with the longest 0-60 time. As long as it is not more than 12-13 seconds. One important thing to ask is if he’d prefer a manual or automatic. If he doesn’t care, automatic is the way to go. There’s a bigger selection. But if he prefers a manual, be sure to let him have a car with a manual. Manuals are a lot more fun to drive for a kid that age, if that’s what they want I mean.

If he thinks he might want to do some of his own maintenance, one thing that is helpful is a car without AC. He’s a kid, he can stand a little heat after all. Think of the immigrants going in covered wagons across the west in the 1850’s, they had no AC! Seriously, AC tends to complicate pretty much everything when working under the hood. No AC, that’s going to be difficult to find though. Americans like their AC.

If I were suggesting a car for a 16 year old – as if I were the 16 year old, but a little wiser from experience – I’d choose a base model Corolla, Civic, Fit,Scion, Ford Focus or Chevy has a cute number too, forget its name. The econobox Kias and that other Korean car are good, nicely styled too, although some comments here seem to indicate they may not to last quite as long before starting to require major repairs. Remember that color and styling is important to a teenager. That’s why I didn’t mention the Yaris. Me, I’d drive the Yaris, but not me as a 16 year old. Well, unless there was no alternative … lol … All of the prior cars have pretty good styling even in the base models and those are the ones I’d like if I was 16.

@jtsanders; Thanks for the comments. Mine does not have the side airbags, but at least the girl has a decent brain in her head. I am more worried about the cell phone though. Sometimes the OCD in them makes them check the messages I guess. She hasn’t taken the test yet so is always driving with us. My life is already shortened some :slight_smile:

I would talk to your insurance agent, they’ll know which cars are rated better for premiums and everything. Reality will hit hard once you start looking and giving VINs to your insurance agent before/after you buy the car. For kicks, go look at older sports models(Mustang, Camaro, etc) and compare insurance versus sedans(Fusion, Accord, Civic, etc)