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

What kind of car is best for first driver?

Our 20 year old son is going to be living in Port Hadlock, Washington, over on the peninsula across from Seattle. He is a new driver and we are trying to decide on what kind of first car to get. At this point we have been looking at some used Volvo S40 or S60 as we have heard that they are dependable and have good safety features. Also we were recommended the Ford Focus as well, but this seems to be a lighter car, and not sure about the safety factor. He is not typically into cars and would like the least complicated and easiest to maintain. Does anyone have a suggestions??

Well not a Volvo IMHO. They are highly over rated both for safety and repair history. If he’s 20 and just learning to drive, I’d think a plane jane Toyota, Honda, Ford, GM, etc. but nothing exotic.

Volvos are about as safe as anything else made around the same model year, and tend to be somewhat less reliable and significantly more expensive to repair and maintain than most other cars. The Focus is a good car, especially '05 up, Hondas and Toyotas are good, but tend to be overpriced, and Ford and GM makes are better than most people think. You can also get a newer car from another make for the same money as the Volvo options, and anything more than a couple years newer than the Volvos will be safer, even smaller, lighter cars. Here’s a video testament to that:

A good place to start is the Consumer Reports car guide. They have some quirks but it is the easiest way to filter out the complete duds. Much as I liked those little Volvos for looks and comfy seats I’d never wish one on anyone I liked. If you want to buy him a premium brand a used Acura TSX is nice, reasonably economical, and not too stodgy.

No to Volvo, it fails the “least complicated and easiest to maintain” criteria. Used Volvo’s are trouble. They need frequent repairs and they are complicated and very expensive repairs.

Most cars are safe, but you seem to want a bigger heavier car for your son. Used Ford Escape is one option that would do the trick and not too expensive to buy and maintain.

Volvo concentrated on safety in the 1980s, well ahead of other makers. Their reputation was well deserved at that time, but the other cars have long since caught up to Volvo in that regard. You no longer can consider a Volvo to be inherently more safe than any other car in its class. Still, the myth lingers on.

Your advice regarding Ford Focus is perfectly sound. In fact, any recent compact car will easily meet your criteria of safety, reliability, and ease of maintenance. Take a second look at the Hyundai Elantra.

There is really no need to dwell on this matter. Virtually all cars made within the past five years have improved to the point that they will all meet your needs. A few European cars still have some mechanical quirks but there are really no unsatisfactory cars being offered. You will do just fine regardless of your final selection.

@mark9207 The OP isn’t looking at the 940. IMO showing this video isn’t any help. If the video involved an S40 or S60 and some other vehicle, it would have been relevant.

If you want something safe, I suggest that you look at SUVs. They sit higher than cars and the occupants will be less prone to injury for that reason. The Mazda CX-9 has the lowest medical payout in 2WD and 4WD models. Remember that bigger generally means safer. If you look at crash test results, the simulation is hitting an identical vehicle, not one larger or smaller. Check here for more information:

A 4 door intermediate, newer is better, make sure it has both front and side airbage.

Our kids did well starting off with Corollas, Camrys and used Accords. Were they more expensive then Chevys and Fords ? Yes. Enough people believe the myth to make them worth more then comparable Fords and Chevys when it comes time to sell them.

Just haven’t heard enough good about Volvo reliability over time to recommend them. I agree, you should be reading CR on their recommendations. If you have heard used Volvos are reliable, it has to be from those who want to shore up their own investment.

A Volvo might be dependable during its warranty period, but I wouldn’t trust it afterwards.

Does the place he’s moving to get a lot of snow?

@jtsanders I linked that video because the OP mentioned they were leery about the Focus because it is a smaller, lighter car. Even though the video is not an exact comparison, like an S60 colliding with a Focus, it does have some relevance in demonstrating that a larger, heavier car is not always necessarily safer than a smaller, lighter car.

Any basic front-wheel-drive mid-size car should be fine here. Avoid any luxury brands. Everyone is correct that a Volvo is no safer than other cars and that on average it will cost far more to maintain.

Make sure to check the insurance quotes on the cars you’re considering. They may vary a lot.

@mark9207 Thanks for the explanation. Suggesting a light car can fare well in a crash is reasonable. But a modern small car sustaining less damage than a modern larger car is highly unlikely. Size really does matter in this case.

A safe car is a grand consideration, I so wish our 20 year old daughter had been with us on vacation, a nearby racetrack had 2 free trainings. One for defensive driving and one for teenage drivers. It had the cool factor because it was at a race track. In addition to the car some expanded driver training may help ease your worries.

+1 mark9207
Great video.
Sorry guys I am getting sick and tired of : get a bigger vehicle because it is safer…
Why we just all buy a humvee or even an Abrams Tank?
Why we do not insist on having a over 300 pages drivers ed book like across the pond? The 40 or so pages manual is just laughable. Why don’t we practice moderation and education over brute force? Teach your children defensive driving and they can avoid the loonies on the road even in a smaller car… Sorry if I ruffled some feathers this is how I feel…

I am a little upset because my neighbors daughter just got her joke of a permit and managed to scrape the side of my less then a year old car… She was driving an Xterra because it is safe… She can not even see out of it.

A slow car with a lot of reflectors and good brakes.
Job done.

I would recommend against the purchase of a Vespa car as the main character in the 1973 movie “American Graffitti” had to drive. Seriously, though, our son has never been “into” cars. In his sophomore year of college, he went on an Appalachian studies semester and had a 400 mile drive down I-75. We had him in a 1988 Ford Taurus which was 5 years old at the time. After he graduated from college and attended seminary, we helped him upgrade to a 1994 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme. The Taurus and Cutlass Supreme were common cars at the time and he sought out independent shops that kept him on the road.
At any rate, for a son who isn’t really car crazy, a Ford Taurus or Fusion, a Buick Century or Chevrolet Malibu or Impala are serviceable cars that don’t command the price on the used car market of an Asian label.

I’ve been trying to remember being 20. Mostly I remember moving often and wishing one of my friends had a truck or van. Or at least a small wagon or hatchback. The Focus was available as either, though they discontinued the wagon. It would have been handy the day I brought an easel home on the bus.

I would add Mazda3 to the discussion.