For parents of young drivers, the idea of finding the best cars for teenagers can seem like an oxymoron. However, while no car can completely protect your kid from harm, there are plenty of models that are designed to be safe and economical, and are a great fit for new drivers.
What should you look for in your teen’s first car?
What do the best cars for teen drivers have in common?
- Safety. Make sure any model you’re considering achieves at least a “good” rating by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). You should also look for safety features like electronic stability control – this often comes standard on newer models, but not necessarily in older cars – and curtain airbags.
- Size. While small cars are easy to maneuver, they typically don’t score well on crash tests, and larger cars are often more expensive to buy and maintain. Some also have their own safety problems. The safest cars for teenagers are often compact or mid-sized.
- Reliability. All cars will need routine maintenance now and again, and your teen should get used to keeping on top of oil changes and tire rotations. But if their car requires frequent repairs, it will be major inconvenience – one they may not be able to afford.
- Affordability. Cost is important, both in terms of purchase price and upkeep. You shouldn’t have sticker shock at the dealer, and your teen shouldn’t have a problem filling it up.
What are the best cars for teens?
When it comes to cars, teens and their parents often have different priorities. Some teens may be preoccupied with certain brands or in-car entertainment features, while parents just want them to get from Point A to Point B in one piece. Fortunately, sometimes both can get what they want. These models are popular with both parents and their teens.
2014 Ford Focus SE Sedan: Starting at $18,165, the 2014 Focus isn’t especially expensive, and at 26 and 36 MPG, respectively, its city and highway mileage are competitive. The Focus also comes with electronic stability control and side curtain airbags standard, as well as Sync, the car’s voice-activated phone and audio player system. The compact car is also an IIHS Top Safety Pick, and is rated “Average” in reliability by J.D. Power and Associates, mostly because of glitches with its MyFord Touch screen.
2014 Chevrolet Malibu LS: The mid-sized Chevy Malibu starts at $22,140. It gets 36 MPG on the highway and has electronic stability control and side curtain airbags. The car also supports BlueTooth technology, so teens can keep their hands off their phones, and OnStar for six months, in case they need some help on the road. In addition, J.D. Power and Associates rate the car “Better Than Most” in terms of reliability, and it has an overall “Good” rating from the IIHS.
2014 Hyundai Sonata GLS: At $21,450, the mid-size Sonata gets 35 MPG on the highway. It features Bluetooth connectivity and the Blue Link telematics system, with automatic crash notification. The car also has stability control, but only front and rear curtain airbags. Still, it’s rated “Good” by the IIHS, and “Better Than Most” for reliability by J.D. Power and Associates. If anything does go wrong, the Sonata carries a five-year warranty.
2014 Toyota Corolla LE: Though it has fewer tech features than some competitors, the compact Corolla boasts many standard safety features, including stability control, side curtain airbags – though only for front-seat passengers – and a maintenance plan with roadside assistance. At $18,300 – and with 37 highway miles per gallon – it’s similar to the Focus. Like the Focus, it was also an IIHS Top Safety Pick and receives “Better Than Most” in reliability. The ecologically minded could also purchase the LE Eco for only about $400 more.
2014 Honda Civic Sedan: Rivaling the Focus, the compact Civic retails for $18,390, and gets an impressive 39 MPG on the highway. With side curtain airbags, stability assist, Bluetooth and a rearview camera, it also has a long list of standard features. The Civic has a “Good” rating from the IIHS, and although reliability data isn’t available for the newest model year, the 2013 Civic was rated “Better Than Most” by J.D. Power.
2014 Mazda6 Sport: Selling for $20,990 and with 39 MPG highway, the Mazda6 is more economical than many of its mid-size competitors. It also comes with side curtain airbags, a traction control system and a rearview camera, as well as Bluetooth, and a number of voice-activated features. According to J. D. Power, the car gets a 3.5/5 for reliability, and it was an IIHS Top Safety Pick+ for this year.
Used models of all of these cars are also good for teenagers, and can be much cheaper than a new model if your teen is financing the purchase themselves. Just keep in mind that older cars do require costlier repairs as they age – decreasing both affordability and reliability over the long term – and may not have all of the safety features you’d expect. If you’re going used, a late model car is probably best.
What’s the best car insurance for teens?
Whether you or your teen is picking up the tab, car insurance for young drivers can be pricey. Fortunately, many insurers offer discounts specifically for teen drivers.
State Farm: State Farm provides multiple discounts for young drivers. Full-time students under the age of 25 with good grades qualify for up to 25% off, and those under 25 who’ve had a clean driving record for three years and complete an approved Steer Clear course can save up to 15%.
AARP/The Hartford: Though the AARP is known for catering to older customers, younger drivers can save with them, too. There are discounts for students under 25 who maintain good grades, and drivers under 21 who’ve taken an approved safe driving course.
Esurance: If you’re a full-time student under 25, with at least a 3.0 GPA, you can save up to 10% with Esurance.
Allstate: Allstate lets single, full-time students who are under 25 and have solid academic records save up to 20% off their premiums. Teens can save 10% for completing a teenSMART class.
Liberty Mutual: At Liberty Mutual, both full-time students and new graduates qualify for discounts.
Keep in mind that the discount your student will receive varies depending on your residency and other factors, so confirm your quote with an agent. And even if your insurer doesn’t offer a discount for younger drivers, they may have other perks that make them worth using.
While there is no one best car for new drivers, depending on your teen’s needs and driving habits, there are a number of cars that could be a great fit. Just be sure your new driver is ready for the responsibility before you help them get wheels of their own. For the first year – or first few years – it may well be better for teens to share the family car. However, if your student can keep on top of maintenance, and can afford to pitch in for monthly payments, insurance and gas, they can definitely find a car that works for them – and you.