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What's the best car for a teen driver?

January 26, 2017
Choosing the right car for a teen driver can lead to lower costs over time in terms of insurance, repairs and typical depreciation.

If you have a son or daughter who is about to become old enough to drive in your state, chances are you have already begun worrying more than a little. This isn't just because of safety concerns—auto insurance for teen drivers can often add significant expenses to their parents' policies. According to Insurance.com, the added cost of including a 16-year-old on your auto insurance coverage varies depending on your state and insurance provider, but it is often significant. In California, for example, a 16-year-old female will add an average of $2,712 per year to insurance premiums, while a male 16-year-old could cost almost twice that at around $4,172.

Regardless of the cost of insuring teen drivers, parents will still want to make sure they are putting them in the right vehicle to begin with. Choosing the right car for a teen driver can lead to lower costs over time in terms of insurance, repairs and typical depreciation. And perhaps more importantly, it's perfectly realistic to find a well-priced car that also will keep your teen safe in case of an accident.

Buying new or used?

The first thing to consider if you're ready to put your teenage son or daughter behind the wheel is deciding if their car will be new or used. Some parents may like the idea of setting a goal for their kids like getting straight A's or being accepted to their top college, and reward them for their hard work with a new car purchase. While it might cost more than buying used, new cars tend to need little maintenance for the first few years, and come with attractive financing offers.

"Even if you get a great deal, buying a brand-new car for a teen might not be the smart choice.”

However, as personal finance writer Ted Jenkin wrote in The Wall Street Journal, parents should look at the downsides of putting their teen in a new car, even if they get a great deal. First of all, the basic fact of depreciation means a new car will instantly lose almost half its value, making it difficult to resell at a time when teens could face some major life changes in a few short years. But from another perspective, Jenkin explains that a brand-new car purchase may be setting an unrealistic precedent.

“If your child is driving a brand new Mercedes, BMW or Range Rover, what will be the growth trajectory for getting a “better" car?" Jenkin said, according to The Wall Street Journal. “It is important to instill in them that some of these things can be attained by hard work when they are earned, but being gifted expensive possessions such as a fancy car is not something that is likely to happen in the future.”

Picking the best used car

While buying the latest and greatest vehicle out there might not be the best choice for a teen driver, it may be equally unwise to simply find the cheapest, oldest beater on the lot. According to Consumer Reports, the best used cars for teens are more recent models that make safety a priority. Here are their tips for choosing the best used car for teens:

  • Look for safety features that go beyond the basics, like electronic stability control and curtain airbags. Consumer Reports noted that all cars made in the last six years come standard with ESC, a relatively new feature that can help drivers avoid an accident.
  • The best used cars still perform well even as they approach 10 years old, making them a great balance between reliability and cost-effectiveness. Consumer Reports found that models like the 2008 Honda Accord and the 2006 Hyundai Sonata were still running well today.
  • Pickup trucks and SUVs are not recommended for teens due to a number of factors. These larger vehicles are harder to control in the event of a sudden swerve and can more easily roll over, earning them lower crash test ratings. In addition, it's generally unwise to give teens the option of carrying more than four passengers, as this increases the risk of distracted driving.

There are plenty of resources available to help parents choose the best car for their new teen drivers. Take the time to conduct thorough research before making a choice.