Safest Vehicles for Teen Drivers — Including Ones Under $10,000

IIHS and Consumer Reports released their annual list of recommended vehicles for young drivers

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It’s one of the most unsettling moments you’ll go through as a parent – watching your teenager drive off on their own after getting their driver's license. So how do you ensure they’ll stay safe on the road? The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) and Consumer Reports (CR) teamed up to compile a list of safe and practical vehicles for young drivers. Sixty-two vehicles made the list this year, and a handful will even cost you less than $10,000.

What Makes a Good Teen Car?

IIHS and CR exclude sports cars and other vehicles with excessive horsepower from this list. They say the vehicles make it too easy to speed and can tempt young drivers to show off.

IIHS and CR say the best vehicles for teens are not too small and not too big. Small, light vehicles may not provide enough protection in multiple-vehicle crashes. Vehicles that are too big, such as a large SUV or pickup truck, might be too hard to handle and often have increased stopping distances.

Rating Used Vehicles

Recommended used vehicles are divided into two categories:

  • Best Choices
    • There are 26 Best Choices on the list this year
    • The Best Choices range in price from $7,800 to $20,000
    • Offer a somewhat higher level of safety than Good Choices
  • Good Choices
    • There are 20 Good Choices on the list this year
    • The Good Choices range in price from $6,600 to $14,500 

Both Best Choices and Good Choices have:

  • Standard electronic stability control
  • Above-average reliability, based on CR’s member survey, for the majority of the years listed
  • Average or better scores from CR’s emergency handling tests
  • Dry braking distance of less than 145 feet from 60 mph in CR’s brake tests
  • Good ratings in four IIHS crashworthiness tests – original moderate overlap front, original side, roof strength and head restraints
  • Four or five stars from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (if rated)

The Best Choices also have a good or acceptable rating in the IIHS driver-side small overlap front test. The test replicates what happens when the front left corner of a vehicle collides with another vehicle or an object like a tree or utility pole.

Rating New Vehicles

New vehicles on the IIHS and CR list are held to an even higher standard than the Best Choice used vehicles. They are all 2023 IIHS “Top Safety Pick” or “Top Safety Pick+” winners. That means they have:

  • Good ratings in three frontal crash tests.
    • Driver-side small overlap
    • Passenger-side small overlap
    • Original moderate overlap
  • A good or acceptable rating in the updated side test
  • Advanced or superior ratings for front crash prevention (including daytime pedestrian detection)
  • Standard acceptable or good-rated headlights
  • Injury claim rates from recent model years are also factored in

The new vehicles also rank at the top of CR’s evaluations. They have average or better predicted reliability, and they meet the same criteria for emergency handling as the used vehicles. Compared with the used vehicles, they are held to a tighter braking distance requirement of 140 feet. They also receive a rating of good or better from CR for ease of use of their controls.

Not Just for Teen Drivers

Even though these recommendations are intended for younger, more inexperienced drivers, they can be a resource for anyone looking for a safe, reliable and affordable vehicle. In addition, if you’re the parent of young children and are shopping for a new car for yourself, you may want to use this list to choose something you’d feel safe handing down to your teen driver one day.

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