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Picking the Safest Used Cars for a Teen Driver

by | May 28, 2024

With school letting out across the country, many high schoolers are looking for jobs to earn money for a car or to pay back money used to buy them a vehicle. Finding a teenager of vehicle is a rite of passage that is often among the most difficult. Fortunately, Headlight.News found a list of good used vehicles to start with.

New drivers face a variety of trials and travails when initially on the road. Having a good vehicle makes many of those issues easier

Vehicles continue to become faster and more powerful than their predecessors. Which means the first vehicle for teen drivers are also just that: fast and powerful even though they may be considered slow and plodding by the teens. Fortunately, cars, trucks and SUVs continue to get safer with each version produced as well.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and Consumer Reports work together each year to produce a list of used — and new — vehicles that parents and students can use as a resource in their hunt for the “perfect” choice for their new driver.

A total of 58 used models ranging from $5,800 to $19,900 are on this year’s list. For the first time, all recommended used vehicles have a good or acceptable rating in the IIHS driver-side small overlap test in addition to good ratings in four other IIHS tests and passing marks for braking, handling and reliability from CR.

What to know

IIHS CR Best Small Cars 2024 graphicThe top tier of recommended used vehicles also come with standard automatic emergency braking (AEB), a good backstop for all drivers, but especially for young, inexperienced ones, who are more prone to mistakes.

“Vehicles continue to get safer, and for the first time since the pandemic-era disruptions, prices on the new and used market have stabilized,” said Jennifer Stockburger, director of operations at CR’s Auto Test Center. “These trends have enabled us to point families to even better options this year.”

Stockbuger recommends a “modified Goldilocks principle” when settling on a vehicle: not too small, not too big and not too fast. This is why there are no Minis or full-size trucks or SUVs on the list.

“It’s exciting to see crash avoidance tech like automatic emergency braking filtering through the fleet and into affordable used models, including many priced under $15,000,” said IIHS Research Scientist Rebecca Weast. “With a little knowledge and patience, families can find the right vehicle for their new driver without spending all their savings.”IIHS CR Best Midsize Cars 2024 graphic

What to buy

The results have been broken down into vehicle segments, but because of the requirements some segments have more options than others. Headlight.News is just offering the top choice in each category, but to see the complete list, head over to the IIHS website.

The two groups named the Toyota Corolla sedan (2017 or newer) or hatchback (2019) the best choice among small cars. It averages $10,600. The 2018 or newer Toyota Camry, starting at $9,600, was named the best midsize car. Making it a clean sweep for the Japanese automaker among the group, the 2017 or newer Toyota Avalon was the best large car. It’s price tag starts around $14,400.

The best small SUV was the 2020 and 2023 Chevrolet Equinox, and its average price starts around $13,800. The best midsize SUV is Volvo’s XC60 from the 2017 model year with a price tag of about $12,100. If you’re getting your kid a minivan, then then Toyota Sienna from 2018 to 2020 is the recommendation, starting at about $19,100.

IIHS CR Best Small SUVs 2024 graphicAll the vehicles earn good ratings from IIHS in the original moderate overlap front, original side, roof strength and head restraint tests, as well as an acceptable or good rating in the driver-side small overlap test.

If rated by NHTSA, they earn 4 or 5 stars overall. In addition, Best Choice vehicles have standard automatic emergency braking systems that earn an advanced or superior rating from IIHS in the original vehicle-to-vehicle front crash prevention test.

Bigger budgets

Some new teen drivers enjoy the luxury of getting a new vehicle. There are many advantages to getting your young driver a new vehicle, they’re current with safety equipment, more fuel efficient and repairs are often covered under the vehicle’s limited warranty.

The two groups made choices from new vehicles and they all earned Top Safety Pick or Top Safety Pick+ ratings from IIHS while getting strong reviews from Consumer Reports member surveys as well as the magazine’s extensive testing processes.

IIHS CR Best Midsize SUVs 2024 graphicThe top small car was the Subaru Impreza at $23,400 with the Mazda3 sedan or hatchback placing second at $24,300, and the Toyota Prius ($28,300), coming third. For midsize cars, the Toyota Camry ($26,900) came first, the Honda Accord ($28,200) second, and Subaru Outback ($29,300) was third.

In small SUVs, the Mazda CX-40 at $25,700 topped the list, followed by the Kia Sportage ($27,300) and Hyundai Tucson at $27,800. The Subaru Ascent at $35,000 took top honors for midsize SUVs. It was followed by Kia Telluride ($36,300) and Hyundai Palisade ($37,000). The Honda Odyssey was top selection among minivans for $38,200.

Outstanding outliers

There were a few things that stood out on this year’s list: no hybrid models were selected, despite they’ve being very popular right now. To be clear, they weren’t singled out as being bad choices either and there are hybrid versions of many of the vehicles selected.

Only one EV made any of the lists, the Hyundai Ioniq 6 (except the dual motor) was fourth place among the vehicles in the new vehicle choices, midsize car segment. And there was on pickup selected among new vehicles: the Hyundai Santa Cruz.


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