2016 Update: Safest Affordable Used Cars for Families and Teens


Safest Used Cars for Teen Drivers under $10K

UPDATE: Click here for the 2017 list of the safest used cars for families and teen drivers.

Many families put a high priority on safety for their kids.  Unfortunately, for various valid reasons, most 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 a new car!  Last year, the IIHS evaluated hundreds of cars to produce a list of models recommended for teens.

I have somewhat different criteria for my teen drivers.  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 above 2,750 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.  And of course, compact cars are less expensive to buy and maintain.  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 from their list, even top performing 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 very poorly in this newer crash test.  Also, many of their recommendations are well over $10,000.

My Requirements?

  1. 4-star or better NHTSA overall rating
  2. No “2-star” or “1-star” ratings in any individual NHTSA crash test or rollover rating.
  3. No “Marginal” or “Poor” IIHS crash test results in ANY test, including the newer small overlap test
  4. Around $10,000 or less to buy.
  5. Good visibility and handling.
  6. Stability control and side-curtain airbags.
  7. 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.


  • IIHS Top Safety Pick
  • 5-star NHTSA overall rating
  • No 3-star ratings in any NHTSA crash test or rollover rating
  • 3,000 lbs curb weight or more.
  • No coupes, sports cars or high horsepower models
  • 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.

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, often in options packages that are difficult to find on used cars.

So, sure, I’d love to go out and  buy them something sporty and safe, maybe a brand new Volvo XC60 or Acura MDX 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 $10,000 or less?

EP-150pxTop 10 picks for the safest used cars for teens and families:

These picks meet all my requirements and most preferences, too.  They are generally reasonable all-around cars and SUVs, and can be found around $10,000 or less in most areas, depending on year and 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 (2012) or 5-star rating.  Many models equipped with hands-free bluetooth. A top value choice.
  3. 2012+ Hyundai Elantra.  IIHS Top Safety Pick.  NHTSA 4-star (early 2012) or 5-star rating.  Good fuel economy and some 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 may be the least expensive SUV option meeting many of the criteria above.
  5. 2007+ Volvo XC90.  IIHS Top Safety Pick with a “Good” small offset crash result and NHTSA 5-star rating starting in 2007.  Standard stability control and side curtain airbags as far back as 2007 also.

Recommended-150pxHonorable Mentions:

  1.  2007+ Volvo S80.  An excellent performer in all crash tests.  A bit larger than others on this list, but arguably the safest.  Also widest for 3 kids/carseats in back. (No NHTSA results)
  2. 2011+ Mitsubishi Lancer (No NHTSA results for 2011) – top value choice
  3. 2012+ Volkswagen Passat (No IIHS small offset crash test for 2012)
  4. 2012+ Honda Accord  (No IIHS small offset crash test for 2012)
  5. 2012+ Honda Civic  (No IIHS small offset crash test for 2012)

Safety splurge choice: 2014-2016 Subaru Forester Premium or 2015-2016 Subaru Legacy Premium with EyeSight.  These would cost well over $15,000 or $200/month or more to lease over 3 years, but may well be worth the expense because of the great crash test results, good reliability, good visibility, all-wheel drive 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 less than 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.  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


  1. Sami February 6, 2016
    • SafeDad - CPS Darren February 7, 2016
  2. Jen January 29, 2016