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What are the best cars for teenagers?

Fact-checked with HomeInsurance.com

Your teen’s first car is a major milestone. Finding the right model that checks off all the boxes is an important decision. Safety, affordability and low maintenance are some of the top factors you should look for in a car. In addition to a loan payment, car insurance may make or break whether your teen (or you) can afford the vehicle. Laura Adams, insurance and financial expert explains, “Adding a young driver to an auto insurance policy is expensive for parents. But doing your homework about the best cars for teen drivers can keep your insurance cost as low as possible.”

That said, what is the cheapest car to insure for a teenager? According to Adams, “Safer cars, such as minivans and family sedans, tend to be less expensive to insure than sportier models. Also, having safety features, such as airbags and back-up cameras, can bring insurance costs down.” 

Factors to consider when buying a car for a teenage driver

Your teenager may have a different idea of what type of vehicle they’d like. As a parent, you’ll need to step in with practical options. When creating a list of best cars for a teenager, the following factors should be considered.

Price of the car

There’s more to car ownership than the price of the car. Gas and insurance premiums should also be factored into your budget. There are a few questions you’ll need to ask to decide how much car your family can afford. Are you or your teen paying for the car? Will you finance the vehicle with a car loan? Who will pay for gas and insurance? 

Cost of maintenance

Some car models have a more expensive track record for maintenance costs. Take that into consideration before you shortlist a certain vehicle model on your “best car for new driver” list.

Safety ratings

Teens are more likely to be involved in a car accident. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that “risk of motor vehicle crashes is higher among teens aged 16-19 than among any other age group.” Choosing from the vehicle models known as the safest cars for teens increases their chances of walking away from an accident unscathed. Check safety ratings for the make and model you’re interested in from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s (IIHS) website — the ratings are based on independent crash tests.

MPG

Miles per gallon (MPG) tells you how fuel-efficient a car is. It’s another good factor to determine a car’s affordability. A small improvement in MPG could save you or your teen hundreds of dollars in fuel costs per year.

Car insurance

One of the highest costs of teen car ownership is car insurance. The vehicle model, purchase price and safety rating affect how much you can expect to pay in car insurance. To save money on car insurance, Adams recommends that “parents should find a reliable, lower-end vehicle with essential safety features.”

Best cars for teenage drivers

The best car for new drivers needs to be affordable, reliable, inexpensive to insure and have high safety ratings. Consider the following models:

1. Mazda 3

Look for a Mazda 3 hatchback or sedan model from 2014 or newer when the vehicle received a redesign, including front suspension improvements to the model’s driver and passenger protection in a frontal crash. 

The 2014 Mazda 3 price averages $7,000 and is the lowest price on our list. The vehicle is rated as “Good,” the highest safety rating from the IIHS, in all five categories including front driver side and passenger, roof strength, head restraints, seats and vehicle sides. The optional front crash prevention safety system may be worth the investment and is rated by the IIHS as “Advanced.”

2. Subaru Legacy/Outback

The IIHS recommends 2013 models or newer because of improvements made to the side curtain airbags. Both the Subaru Legacy and the hatchback version, known as the Subaru Outback, were evaluated with the same results.

For a price of about $7,600 to $8,500, Subarus received a “Good” on four out of five categories — the front driver-side zone’s safety rating was “Acceptable.” The optional vehicle-to-vehicle front crash prevention system was awarded the highest rating of “Superior.”

3. Honda Accord

One of the most affordable and reliable vehicles in the car market is the Honda Accord. A 2013 model or later starts at $9,200. Several Honda models make the YourMechanic.com list of least expensive cars to maintain with the Honda Accord averaging $6,600 in maintenance over ten years.

The IIHS recommends 2013 models or newer because of the major redesign the Accord received for the model year. The Honda Accord gets a “Good” in all categories as far as safety goes. The optional safety equipment isn’t essential — the IIHS scores the Accord’s optional crash avoidance system as “Basic,” the lowest rating.

4. GMC Terrain

No list of best cars for teenagers can skip an SUV. They’re popular, sporty and a big hit with younger drivers. The GMC Terrain makes the list of best cars for new drivers and teens for the combination of safety ratings and price.

The IIHS gives the GMC Terrain 2014 to 2017 models a high rating of “Good” in all categories. Starting in 2014, all Terrain models have a modified door hinge pillar and front structure that addresses issues with passenger injuries in small overlap frontal crashes. A 2014 or newer GMC Terrain starts at roughly $9,400 in price.

5. Toyota Prius V

If gas efficiency and reliability are important, the hybrid Toyota Prius V is an excellent choice for teen drivers. Additionally, YourMechanic.com awards the Prius as #1 in the least expensive cars to maintain, with an average cost over ten years of $4,300. 

According to the IIHS, the 2015 Toyota Prius is a Top Safety Pick with a “Good” rating across the board. Models starting in 2015 were improved for safety with modifications to the A-pillar, front structure, hinge pillar, door sill and side curtain airbags. A 2015 Toyota Prius averages $12,600.

The takeaway

  • Consider more than vehicle price when deciding on the best car for a new driver.
  • New driver or teen car insurance is a significant portion of the cost of car ownership.
  • Cars with high safety ratings should be a priority — teens have the highest risk of crashes of all age groups.

The best cars for new drivers and teens are a combination of price and safety features. Teens are at higher risk of being involved in a crash — a safe vehicle protects them from injury and may also help lower the high cost of teen car insurance.

Insurance expert Laura Adams suggests, “before signing a deal, shop and compare auto insurance quotes for different cars that you’re considering for your teen driver. What you find should be factored into your car-buying decision to make having a young driver more affordable.”

Cynthia Paez Bowman

Writer

Cynthia splits her time between Los Angeles, CA and San Sebastian, Spain. She travels to Africa and the Middle East regularly to consult with women’s NGOs about small business development.

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