Jubilant black teen holding car keys while sitting in white convertible

Used Cars for Teens should be Midsize or Larger

A teenager’s first car is a rite of passage. But because a car is a major purchase, parents often buy their child a used car to save money. The operative words are “cute” and “inexpensive.” In terms of safety, however, that’s a mistake.

Teens are the group most at risk for car accidents. And larger vehicles are known to be safer and less vulnerable during a collision. So when choosing a used car for your teen, rather than “cute,” think: midsize or larger.

A good resource for parents in choosing the right used car for their child is the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). On its website, the IIHS lists the safest, most affordable, recommended used vehicles for teenage drivers. The lists are separated according to “best choices” and “good choices.” The IIHS lists even display the current prices of those vehicles, according to the Kelley Blue Book.

The IIHS list is budget as well as safety conscious, with prices of the used cars ranging from around $2,000 to just under $20,000. That means parents can get the safest car possible no matter their budget. It’s a relief to know that budgetary restraints don’t require parents to skimp on safety.

Safety: Four Guiding Principles

The IIHS is guided by four main principles in making its used car recommendations for optimal teen driving safety:

  1. High horsepower cars are a no-no. Teens crave power, and will want to test the upper limits of what a car can do, putting them at risk.
  2. Size matters: bigger, heavier cars are safer. In the event of a crash, a bigger, heavier vehicle is less vulnerable, offering greater protection to passengers. Statistics suggest that teen drivers are also less likely to crash while driving larger, heavier cars. The exception is small SUVs which are similar in weight to midsize cars.
  3. Electronic stability control (ESC) is a precondition. This feature helps drivers maintain control even when handling curves and slippery roads. That result? A reduction in risk comparable to the level of risk reduction provided by safety belts.
  4. Best possible safety ratings. The IIHS list includes only used cars that get good ratings in safety tests and have a 4-5-star rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

Caveat: Check for Recalls

Before buying a used car, parents should use the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) to check for outstanding recalls. It’s also important to notify the manufacturer of your used car purchase. That way, if there’s a recall, you’ll receive a notification. The NHTSA also recommends that car owners check its database for the newest recalls, about every six months.

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