Most of us remember a time when a decent first car could be had for around $5,000 or less, but today parents are experiencing some serious sticker shock in the market. A study from iSeeCars.com is here to help with some data that reveals the best combination of safety and reliability at various price points.
Helping your teen with their car purchase can be a tricky process. Most parents are prioritizing safety and reliability while many teens want a ride that seems “cool.” As a professional car shopper, I often get asked “What’s the best car I should buy for my kid.” While the simple answer is “the safest one you can afford,” I caution parents about buying something that is either too big or too small. While it may be tempting to have your teen behind the wheel of a Suburban because larger vehicles tend to survive crashes better than smaller cars, parents need to remember that combining a big car with slower reflexes due to physics and a novice driver with slower reaction time due to experience can be a bad combination. I will often point folks in the direction of the compact to the mid-size category of vehicles as they provide a good balance between maneuverability and safety.
iSeeCars.com has examined data from safety ratings, reliability, and fuel economy to come up with selections in various categories using the following methodology:
“iSeeCars analyzed over 1.7 million used cars sold between May and July 2022 to find cars with an average price under $25,000. It then combined this pricing information with reliability and safety scores from its Best Cars Rankings, along with the latest mpg values, to determine the best cars for teens. Cars were required to have a minimum mpg of 20 and a combined reliability and safety score of at least 8.5 out of 10 to be included.”
Here are the choices for the best cars for teens under $25,000:
When iSeeCars sent me this data, I told them that while this is good information a more helpful list would be cars under $15,000 because I don’t know if many parents that are dropping twenty-five large on the first car for their kid. Furthermore, if someone were to spend that kind of money they would probably just buy a new car with the most modern safety tech. To my surprise, iSeeCars reexamined their data and sent me a list of cars under $15,000
Overall there are some solid but mostly predictable choices here, though if parents are shopping in that sub $15k category you are looking at cars that are at least ten years old and in some cases models that date back to 2007. My first car was a 1991 Chevy Lumina for about $2500 and I bought it in 1998, parents and teens have it much harder nowadays.
For those folks who are in this mess of a market trying to find a car for their kid, I would also recommend that they do some research on insurance costs as there can be a significant difference in premiums depending on the vehicle. Also, investing in a pre-purchase inspection, whether it be from a local mechanic or a remote inspection service, is critical before you lay down the cash.
Tom McParland is a contributing writer for Jalopnik and runs AutomatchConsulting.com. He takes the hassle out of buying or leasing a car. Got a car buying question? Send it to Tom@AutomatchConsulting.com