What car is ideal for teen drivers?
Ask a teenager what car they want and then ask their parents what car they prefer for their child. You can get some pretty different answers. However, you just might get some surprising agreements too.
We hear teens asking the same questions over and over again. “Which is the best car for me?”, “What car should I get?”, “What is the best car for a first-time buyer?”, and “Which car has the best reliability-safety-style-performance-gas mileage-cost?”
We will try to help answer those questions here in this article.
What teenagers want in a car
Generally, teenagers and first-time car buyers tend to want the following:
- style (look cool or cute)
- small or compact size (easy to manage, easy on gas)
- room for friends (no two-seaters)
- performance (go fast)
- accessorizability (look cooler and go faster)
- cost (must fit in budget)
What parents of teens want in a car
Parents of driving teenagers, on the other hand, place importance on the following:
- safety (protect kids as much as possible even if driving unsafely)
- economy (kids drive a LOT of miles, and have little money)
- reliability (kids and parents don’t have time or money for repairs)
- insurance cost (rates are outrageous for kids anyway)
- sensible (is it practical and useful)
Fortunately, the characteristics that teens want and those that parents want are not necessarily conflicting. A number of car makes and models satisfy both parties, possibly with some amount of compromise.
Which make and model cars are best for teens?
Before we start, it should be mentioned that some of the vehicle makes/models we mention here are new and some are older models that may be no longer in production, but still available as used cars. We discuss the merits of buying new versus used elsewhere in this article.
Most Popular of All
The Honda Civic is the hands-down favorite car for teenagers— and parents. The Civic is small but easily holds four people, economical to buy and operate, extremely reliable, has nice styling and performance, and ranks very high on safety ratings. For those who want to customize its looks or performance, there are hundreds of companies who offer products and parts for the Civic. Insurance costs are relatively low for the Civic, even for teenage drivers.
Other Popular Models
Other favorites of teens that are also parent-friendly are Mazda3, Ford Focus, Toyota Corolla, and Mitsubishi Lancer. These vehicles are fuel efficient and economical to operate, as well as being safe. Prices on new models are relatively low, especially for base trims.
Small Economical Models
For teens who prefer even smaller, more economical cars, we recommend the Honda Fit, Nissan Versa, and Toyota Yaris. These vehicles are great for first-time drivers. They are easy to handle, more fuel efficient that many hybrids, and cheap to insure. It must be pointed out, however, that such small vehicles don’t do well in crash testing, and for that reason may not be ideal for inexperienced teen drivers.
More Expensive Models
For teens fortunately enough to have more money, some luxury or near-luxury models to consider are the BMW 3-Series, Mercedes CLA-Class, Audi A3, Acura TL, and the Lexus IS.
All these car models are available as used cars on UsedCars.com at already discounted prices. You can select location, make, model, type, price range, and more. The cars are at nearby dealers where you can go see them and drive them, which is an advantage over buying through online sites such as Autotrader and Craigslist where scams and long-distance buying problems are common.
Some Models to Avoid
Older used models of the following cars are favored by teens, but less by parents (for good reason) : Ford Mustang (V8), Chevrolet Camaro (V8), Pontiac Firebird or TransAm (no longer manufactured), and Mitsubishi Lancer Evo. These tend to be faster, higher performance cars that have lower safety ratings and high insurance costs for young drivers. Generally, small sporty 2-door coupes with large engines are the most expensive to insure — because they are wrecked more often by young drivers.
Larger, Safer Models
Older used models that are preferred more by parents than their teenagers include the Honda Accord, Ford Taurus, Toyota Camry, and Nissan Maxima. These models are a little larger, a bit safer (because they are larger), reliable, economical, and enjoy reasonable insurance rates.
Used models of these vehicles are available on UsedCars.com at a variety of prices. Prices have already been discounted, but further price negotiation is recommended.
A number of manufacturers promote small SUVs to teenagers and young adults. These include the Chevrolet Tracker, Ford Escape, Honda CR-V, Mazda Tribute, Pontiac Vibe, Toyota RAV4, Nissan Xterra, and Scion xB. However, many parents are concerned about the safety of these vehicles. The primary concern with SUVs for teenagers is a greater tendency to roll over in high speed maneuvers due to a higher center of gravity. Inexperienced drivers tend to react to emergency situations with sudden moves that SUVs can’t handle well.
If your teenager absolutely must have an SUV, opt for a stability control system for added safety and peace of mind. It is available as standard equipment on many vehicles, and as an option on others. Its job is to help avoid having accidents in adverse conditions. This relatively new safety feature is being touted as the most important way to save lives since the seat belt.
Should teens buy new or used?
Cost is usually a big consideration in buying a car for a teenager. This tends to sway the decision toward buying a used car, which can offer more value for the money. Other costs, such as insurance, maintenance, and taxes, can also be lower. However, there may be good reasons to buy new.
New cars offer the latest styling, hottest accessories, better sound systems, better gas mileage, and better safety equipment. Some makes/models of new cars can actually cost less than used cars of the same make/model if manufacturers are offering promotional incentives and rebates, which are very common now. See this web site for current deals: Best New Car Deals – Incentives and Rebates.
You can get free price quotes on any new car make or model at Edmunds.com. The price quotes will include any manufacturer rebates and dealer discounts. Get as many quotes as possible so that you have a good comparison.
If you are looking for a cheap car, here is a list of a number of other good sources for used cars: Where to Find Cheap Cars.
Financing a car for teens
It is often difficult or impossible for teens to get a car loan when buying their first car — due to having little or no credit history. Options might include paying cash, getting a family member to co-sign with them as a co-borrower, or getting a loan from family or friends.
If you need a used car loan and have no credit, or poor credit, we recommend Auto Credit Express, one of the largest car loan companies in the country for credit-challenged people.
How about auto insurance for teen drivers?
The absolute best way to find the cheapest car insurance for teenage drivers is to get multiple rate quotes online and compare for the best deals. Start with a reputable insurance company such as Esurance.com You fill out one form and immediately get a rate quote that has been matched to your qualifications and requirements.
After you’ve selected car accident insurance, and you have a used car more than 3 years old, make sure you are also covered against expensive breakdowns and repairs after your new-car warranty has expired. We recommend Endurance Vehicle Protection, the largest and oldest provider of direct-to-consumer automobile warranties.
How about leasing a new car?
Leasing a new car is a way to cut monthly payment expenses, but is often not a good idea for teenagers. Leasing requires a commitment to stick out the lease until the end. Since teens’ tastes change quickly, terminating a lease early to satisfy their desire to move to another car can be very costly. Leasing also limits the number of driven miles allowed, and the amount of wear-and-tear allowed. These can be problems for teen drivers.
Additional information for teenage first-time drivers
The following web site is written specifically for teen drivers who are dealing with the complexities of choosing, buying, financing, insuring, and maintaining their first car: First Car Guide. This guide can help any teenager find the best car for them.