Safest Affordable Used Cars for Teens and Families


Teen rdriversMany families put a high priority on vehicle safety for their kids.  Unfortunately, for various valid reasons, many are not able to go out and buy a brand new car with the latest safety features.  Perhaps others are buying a car for a teen or college student and want something safe, but don’t want them wrecking even a newer car!  Last year, the IIHS recently evaluated hundreds of cars to produce a list of models recommended for teens and recently updated the Safe and Affordable Used Vehicle Recommendations for Teens list for 2015.

I have somewhat different criteria for my teen driver.  For example, while I also exclude the smallest sub-compact and “micro” vehicles, I have no issue with my teen driving a compact sedan if it is close to 3,000 lbs., as long is it has great crash test results.  While compact cars do give up a little in terms of weight in a frontal crash, they are generally more maneuverable and easier to handle and park.  That’s a big deal for new drivers.  Not to mention the lower cost up front and for gasoline!  I am also more concerned about having top results in all the actual crash tests, including the new IIHS small overlap test, and less concerned about certain other results.

Unfortunately, the IIHS excludes compact sedans, even top models with many safety features and decent all-around crash test scores, including their own small overlap test.  In fact, some models they recommend do poorly in this newer test.  Most of their recommendations are well over $10,000.


My Requirements?

  1. 2011 or newer.  That means a much greater chance of finding critical safety features like stability control and side curtain airbags.  Plus this is the year the NHTSA began crash testing with its newer crash test system that doesn’t compare to models before 2011.
  2. Good visibility and handling.
  3. Stability control and side-curtain airbags.
  4. 4-star or better NHTSA overall rating
  5. No “Marginal” or “Poor” IIHS crash test results in ANY test, including the newer small overlap test
  6. No “2-star” or “1-star” ratings in any individual NHTSA crash test or rollover rating.
  7. Around $10,000 or less to buy (or lease over 3 years).
  8. No minicars, sub-compacts or any model below 2,750lbs.  Weight is a bad thing on roads, I know.  More mass means more kinetic energy and more wasted fuel.  But when the other guy is driving a 5,000 lb. truck, the smallest cars become splatter.  On the flip side, smaller cars are easier to drive and generally offer better handling as well.


Would be nice:

  • Backup Camera
  • Bluetooth Hands-Free
  • Advanced safety features of any kind.  Forward collision warning/mitigation, lane departure warning, cross traffic alert, blind spot alert.  Any or all of these would be great, but few affordable cars have them and most of those that do only on the priciest trim/option packages.

So, sure, I’d love to go out and  buy them something sporty and safe, maybe a brand new Volvo XC60 or Mercedes ML-Class with all the safety features and a price tag to go with them.  Heck, I wouldn’t mind driving one of those myself!  But being more realistic, what’s available for around 10K or less?

Here are a few options that meet my requirements and many preferences, too.  They are generally reasonable vehicles all around as well and can be found around $10,000 or less, depending on mileage:

  1. 2011+ Kia Optima.  IIHS Top Safety Pick.  NHTSA 5-star rating.  A little more expensive than Focus or Elantra, but is a safe midsize model meeting most of the preferences above.
  2. 2012+ Ford Focus.  IIHS Top Safety Pick.  NHTSA 4-star or 5-star rating.  Many models equipped with hands-free bluetooth.  Probably the least expensive choice on the used market from this list.
  3. 2012+ Hyundai Elantra.  IIHS Top Safety Pick.  NHTSA 4-star or 5-star rating.  Good fuel economy and many will still be within the transferable factory 5/60 warranty, making it a good value, too.
  4. 2012+ Mitsubishi Outlander Sport.  IIHS Top Safety Pick.  NHTSA 4-star overall rating.  This one would likely have high mileage at the maximum price, but is probably the least expensive option meeting many of the criteria above for those who prefer an SUV.

Honorable Mentions at a somewhat higher cost:

  1.  2007+ Volvo S80.  An excellent performer in all crash tests.  A bit larger than others on this list, but arguably the safest too.  Older models from 2007-2008 can now be found close to $10,000.
  2. 2015 Honda Civic LX CVT (automatic) lease.  IIHS Top Safety Pick.  NHTSA 5-star rating.   Often advertised just over $150 per month for 36 month lease with a modest down payment.  The Civic offers a backup camera and bluetooth hands-free standard, meaning you can actually find one with these features at the advertised price.  It’s like renting a car for just over $6 a day or $7,000 over 3 years.  Great fuel economy makes it a good choice for those wanting a very safe new car on a budget.
  3. Great manufacturer subsidized lease deals can also be found on various other new 2015 sedans and hatchbacks that are IIHS Top Safety Picks and have 5-star NHTSA ratings.  The Chevrolet Malibu, Ford Fusion, Honda Accord, Mazda 3, Mazda 6, Nissan Altima, Subaru Impreza, Subaru Legacy, Toyota Prius and Toyota Camry can be inexpensive,  but only if you opt for base models with 4-cylinder engines and minimal options.  Perfect for a teen!
  4. 2014-2015 Subaru Forester Premium or Subaru Legacy Premium with EyeSight.  This would likely be over my $10,000 lease limit, but may well be worth the expense because of the great crash test results and the available EyeSight system that is the best advanced safety package with frontal crash mitigation on the market today.

This is not an all-inclusive list, just some models I identified as standouts.  If you’ve found other safe choices for teens, please comment!

We have about a year to decide if we’ll buy a third car at all, once both our teens are driving.  Maybe my wife or I will get a newer vehicle and pass one of ours down, as the ones we drive are relatively new and safe overall.  Or maybe something else will come along in terms of a friend or relative or something.  But for now, the choices above look pretty reasonable for our precious cargo.  Is it worth it to spend this much?  We’ve deemed saving for college to be worth a lot more than that, so it seems like a small sum to pay to make sure our kids actually make it to college!  After all, driving a car and riding with other teen drivers is by far the most dangerous thing most teens do on a daily basis.

SafeDad writes about automobiles, carseats and traffic safety issues at CarseatBlog

One Response

  1. Jen October 8, 2015