Teen drivers pose a special risk on the road.  Their lack of experience and risk-taking behavior, such as speeding or texting and driving, increase the likelihood of accidents, including fatalities resulting from those accidents.  According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), teen drivers have crash rates nearly four times those of drivers who are age 20 and older per mile driven.  In addition, the fatal crash rate per mile driven for 16- to 17-year-olds is three times the rate for drivers 20 and older. However, as a parent, if you are purchasing a car for your teen, you can make an impact to help ensure their safety on the road, and possibly the safety of others.  In fact, the right car purchase can even be an overall savings to your wallet.  Here’s what to look for when it comes to buying the safest cars for teens, as well as recommended models for your new teen driver.


What To Look For In A Car For Your Teen

If you are purchasing a car for your teen, you’ll want a car that is a combination of safety, reliability, and affordability.  Of the three, safety should be your number one priority.  Brand new vehicles, generally, are safer, but safe models also exist in used or certified pre-owned vehicles.  Either way you choose, you’ll want to avoid any model that is too big, which could be tough to park or maneuver for your teen, as well as any vehicle that is too small, which could prove dangerous in a bad collision.  Also, you’ll want a vehicle with a 4-cylinder engine – which are safer than a vehicle with a larger engine or increased horsepower.  This will clip the capability, and therefore, possibility of higher speeds being driven by your teen driver.  Four-cylinder vehicles come in compact-size model vehicles to small SUV-sized model vehicles.

Reliability, the second factor to look for in a car for your teen, will offer you some stability as your child gains experience on the road.  The purchase of a vehicle with a proven record of reliability may save you money in the long run and prepare you accurately for any repair or maintenance costs.  Lastly, you’ll want to factor in affordability.  Putting your teenager on the road with their own car means insurance premiums on your policy will go up.  This will need to be factored into any budget for your teen’s car. Parents may see the cost of their insurance double, or even triple, with the addition of their teen driver to their policy.  While many insurance companies can offer discounts to help reduce the premium, such as good student discounts or discounts from driving safety courses, the overall cost of putting your teenager on the road will need to be considered when shopping for a car for your teen.

New Or Used?

A new car has plenty of advantages for a new teen driver.  Newer models will have more advanced safety features and driver assists, but the vehicle costs and insurance will be higher.  Many experts recommend cars between three to five years old, though luckily, cars as old as 2013 come with three very important safety features now: anti-lock brakes, traction control, and stability control.  More recently, rearview cameras are now a requirement; cars from 2018 or later have this safety feature.

In our opinion, a used car with good safety features is a better investment and may be easier to find right now due to the chip shortage that has resulted in a lack of new car inventory.  If a low price is the deciding factor for you, there are many options on the market at $10,000 or less with solid safety features, durability, and fuel efficiency.

Safety Features To Look Out For

Antilock Brakes (ABS) for Traction Control And Stability Control

A key safety feature, ABS enables traction control, which limits how much a wheel can spin, and stability control, which helps a driver maintain control of a car.  This is important in case you need to make a hard stop.

Forward-Collision Warning (FCW)

FCW is a safety system that detects or alerts other vehicles or objects in the front of a driver’s car. It uses radar, lasers, or cameras to make these detections.  Forward collision warning reduces front-to-rear crashes.

Blind-Spot Monitoring (BSM)

BSM is a driver assist system that alerts drivers of “blind spots” or obstructed or escaped visibility in side-view mirrors.  In this system, a visual warning on the mirrors, A-pillar or elsewhere will appear.

Other Features

Other features that are nice to have are outboard mirrors with turn-signal indicators, adaptive cruise control, at least six airbags and auto on/off headlights.

Turn To The Experts

There are several organizations you can check out when evaluating some of the safest cars for teens.  IIHS and the government’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) are the gold standard for crash-test ratings.  The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety uses a “good” to “poor” scale when testing how each area of the car performs in various crash experiments, while NHTSA uses a star system, with five being the best and one being the worst; it scores based on how well cars perform in a frontal crash, a side crash, and a rollover crash.

Consumer Reports is also a good, comprehensive source for safety ratings and information.  The consumer organization has tested cars for over 85 years.  Kelly Blue Books offers additional information and reviews.

The Top Picks For Teens

Our list is not all inclusive. There are plenty of new and used car models that would work great for your teen. Just be sure to do your research and look at their IIHS and NHTSA scores, along with Kelly Blue Book prices and average costs to insure these cars for your driver.

Honda Civic

  • IIHS safety pick from 2009-2017, 2020-2022
  • Nearly every iteration has a 5-star NHTSA rating
  • Best seller for many reasons: price, features, safety, reliability
  • Great fuel economy
  • Not hard to find at a good price point

Toyota Camry

  • IIHS top safety pick from 2012-2022
  • Multiple iterations with 5-star NHTSA rating
  • Best seller, but may be hard to find since Camry owners tend to keep them
  • Great fuel economy
  • Roomy and comfortable

Hyundai Sonata

  • IIHS top safety pick from 2011-2013, 2015-2022
  • Multiple iterations with 5-star NHTSA rating
  • Base models come with standard safety features
  • Good reputation for extended warranty coverage
  • Hybrid versions available with greater fuel efficiency

Nissan Altima

  • IIHS top safety pick from 2013-2022
  • Iterations since 2014 with 5-star NHTSA rating
  • Great fuel economy
  • Base models have Bluetooth connectivity and remote engine start; 2016 models onward have rearview camera
  • Roomy and user friendly

Ford Focus

  • Discontinued, but used vehicles still available
  • IIHS top safety pick 2012-2015
  • Iterations since 2012 with 5-star NHTSA rating
  • First model to offer a standard back-up camera, blind spot detection and lane departure warnings
  • MyKey feature enables parents to set limits on the car’s speed, radio volume, and seatbelt alerts

When searching for a starter car, many factors are important, such as the safest car for teens, the reliability of the model you choose, and your budget.  One way to save money is through Elephant Insurance. Don’t delay, get a quote today!


Article last updated on June 25th, 2023 at 7:04 pm

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