Best used vehicles for teens

IIHS study finds many teens are not driving the safest vehicles

Published: July 28, 2014, 3:00 PM
Updated: November 22, 2021, 4:14 PM

Teenage driver

According to a recent study conducted by the U.S.-based Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), many teenagers are driving vehicles that don't offer good crash protection and lack important safety technology.

A survey of 500 parents in the U.S. revealed that 83% of those who bought a vehicle specifically for their teenagers to drive said they bought it used, and more than half those vehicles were from the 2006 model year or earlier.

Teenagers who drove a vehicle the family already owned were even more likely to drive an older vehicle, according to the survey. Two-thirds of those parents said the vehicle was from 2006 or earlier.

That's a problem, the IIHS says, because older vehicles are much less likely to have safety features such as electronic stability control (ESC) and side airbags.

It's an understandable problem, however, for price is often a major determinant in how new a vehicle teenagers or their families can afford for their first cars.

Even at the lower end of the used market some choices are safer than others and the IIHS has compiled a list of such vehicles that typically cost less than $10,000 (US) in the U.S.

Absent from that list are small or mini cars, which the Institute says account for 28% of all vehicle purchased for teenagers. But bigger, heavier vehicles protect better in a crash it states. Small SUVs are included on its list because their weight is typically similar to that of a midsize car.

Other general recommendations on vehicles for teens include:

> Young drivers should stay away from high horsepower. Vehicles with more powerful engines can tempt them to test the limits.

> ESC is a must. This feature, which helps a driver maintain control of the vehicle on curves and slippery roads, reduces risk on a level comparable to seat belts.

> Vehicles should have the best safety ratings possible. At a minimum, that means 'good' ratings in the IIHS moderate overlap front test, 'acceptable' ratings in the IIHS side crash test and four or five stars from the (U.S.) National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

If they can't satisfy all those criteria at the price they can pay, parents should seek out a midsize or larger car, an SUV, or a minivan with the most safety they can afford, says the IIHS.

Besides ESC, specific things to look for in a used vehicle are side airbags and low horsepower. In some cases, it may be possible to find an ESC-equipped vehicle for a model on which the technology was optional.

SUVs and pickups are particularly risky when not equipped with ESC, the Institute warns, because they are the most prone to rollover crashes.

What the IIHS fails to advise, however, is how to convince teens to drive a car they may find uncool, which will probably be the case for many of those on the recommended list.

IIHS Recommended Vehicles for Teens

(For less than $10,000 (US))


Acura RL 2005 and later $9,700

Mercury Sable 2009 $9,700

Kia Amanti 2009 $9,500

Ford Taurus 2009 $9,100

Audi A6 sedan 2005 and later $8,300

Hyundai Azera 2006 and later $5,700


Subaru Legacy 2009 $9,900

BMW 3-series sedan 2006 and later $9,300

Mazda 6 2009 and later $8,900

Saturn Aura 2009 $8,800

Acura TL 2004 and later $7,900

Volvo S40 2007 and later $7,700

Audi A3 2006-07 $7,400

Mercedes-Benz C-Class 2005-08 $6,900

Suzuki Kizashi 2010 and later $6,600

Volvo S60 2007-09 $6,500

Audi A4 2005-08 $6,200

Volkswagen Passat 2006-08 $5,100

Saab 9-3 2005 and later $4,000


Nissan Rogue 2008 and later $9,800

Ford Escape 2009 and later $8,700

Mazda Tribute 2009 and later $8,100

Mitsubishi Outlander 2007 and later $6,300

Suzuki Grand Vitara 2006 and later $5,600


Mazda CX-9 2007 and later $9,800

Ford Edge 2007-10 $9,600

Hyundai Veracruz 2007 and later $9,600

Hyundai Santa Fe 2007-10 $8,900

Honda Pilot 2006 and later $8,800

Saturn Vue 2008-09 $7,700

Ford Taurus X 2008-09 $7,500

Mazda CX-7 2007-11 $7,200

Suzuki XL7 2008-09 $6,200


Volkswagen Routan 2009-11 $8,600

Dodge Grand Caravan 2008-11 $8,200

Chrysler Town & Country 2008-11 $8,100

Honda Odyssey 2005-10 $6,700

Hyundai Entourage 2007-08 $6,300

Kia Sedona 2006 and later $4,600