That "Best Used Cars For Teens" List Gets It Half Right

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Automobile crashes are the leading cause of death for teenagers, and young drivers are three times more likely to be involved in a collision. In an effort to help parents buy safer cars, The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has released their list of recommended used cars for teens. It's not bad, but it has issues.

The IIHS examined crash statistics among teenage drivers and found that among 15-17 yr olds that were fatally injured in a crash, 29% of them were in small cars or mini cars. They also discovererd that 82% of teenage drivers were in vehicles that were at least 6 years old. The IIHS also surveyed 500 parents in regards to their purchasing habits for teenage drivers. The survey revealed that 28% of parents purchased small cars and mini-cars and more than half bought cars that are at least 6 years old.


The Institute then formulated a list of 50 cars based on the following criteria-

  • Young drivers should stay away from high horsepower. Vehicles with more powerful engines can tempt them to test the limits.
  • Bigger, heavier vehicles protect better in a crash. There are no minicars or small cars on the recommended list. Small SUVs are included because their weight is similar to that of a midsize car.
  • ESC is a must. This feature, which helps a driver maintain control of the vehicle on curves and slippery roads, reduces risk on a level comparable to safety belts.
  • Vehicles should have the best safety ratings possible. At a minimum, that means good ratings in the IIHS moderate overlap front test, acceptable ratings in the IIHS side crash test and four or five stars from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

The list is divided into two sections. "Best Choices" which are under $20k including cars such as: Ford Taurus, Toyota Camry, Honda Accord, GMC Acadia, Honda Odyssey, Kia Sportage and others. Then there are the "Good Choices" which are vehicles priced under $10k, this includes cars such as: Acura RL, Saturn Aura, Ford Escape, Mazda CX-9, Dodge Grand Caravan and others.

I get asked this question all the time from parents, "What is a good car to buy for my teen driver?" I try to recommend something that is affordable, reliable, safe, and appropriately sized for a novice driver. I tend to lean towards mid-size sedans because they are big enough to offer crash protection but not too big so that they are unwieldy for new drivers.


My issue with the IIHS list is that it is making a purchase recommendation based on fairly narrow metric of vehicle age and passive safety. The list does not take into consideration reliability, repair costs, and vehicle dynamics. It also presupposes that parents have a much larger budget to spend than what reality often dictates. Compact cars like the Civic or Corolla are not really "unsafe" choices for teens and they are often affordable and reliable first cars. While I agree that parents should purchase the safest car they can afford, there are other factors to be considered.

(Photo Credit: AP Images)

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