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Safest Used Cars Deals for $10K or Less, & Best New Car Safety Picks Under $25K for Teen Drivers and Families

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 are concerned they might wreck a new car.  Earlier this year, the IIHS evaluated hundreds of cars to produce an updated list of recommended models for teens.  A similar list was created by Consumer Reports.

NHTSA: Teen Driving

I have somewhat different criteria for my teen drivers, with the most emphasis on actual crash test results and crash avoidance safety features.  For example, while I also exclude the smallest sub-compact and “micro” vehicles, I have no issue with my teen driving a compact sedan, but only if it has very good crash test results.  Compact sedans are less expensive to buy and maintain, plus they are generally easier to maneuver and park, especially for an inexperienced driver.

Unfortunately, the IIHS excludes compact sedans from their list, even top performing models with many safety features and good all-around crash test scores, including their own small overlap test.  In fact, some models they have recommended in the past do marginally or poorly in this newer crash test.  Like Consumer Reports, many of their recommendations are well over $10,000 even with very high mileage.  Speaking of Consumer Reports, they omit many very safe choices if the vehicle didn’t do well in their proprietary reliability rankings.

For this list, the requirements are very objective and focus only on safety with a price threshold.

Safe Used Vehicle Requirements:

  1. 5-star NHTSA overall rating
  2. IIHS Top Safety Pick
  3. Around $10,000 or less to buy
  4. Good visibility and handling
  5. No sports cars, minicars, sub-compacts or any model under 2,700 lbs
  6. No “2-star” or “1-star” ratings in any individual NHTSA crash test or rollover rating
  7. No “Marginal” or “Poor” IIHS crash test results in ANY crash test, including the newer small overlap tests

Safest Used Vehicle Preferences:

  • IIHS Top Safety Pick+
  • No 3-star NHTSA ratings in any test
  • Midsize or larger, 3,200 lbs. or more
  • Stability Control and Side Curtain Airbags standard
  • 2011 or newer.  In 2011, the NHTSA began crash testing with its improved crash test system that doesn’t compare to models before 2011

Safe Vehicle Wish List:

  • Backup Camera
  • Bluetooth Hands-Free
  • Advanced crash avoidance of any kind, especially automatic emergency braking.  Forward collision warning/mitigation, lane departure warning, cross traffic alert, blind spot alert are also key features to research before going to a dealer.  Any or all of these would be great, but few affordable used cars have them.  Those that do are often top trim levels that include tech options packages that are difficult to find on used car lots but can sometimes be located in online searches like Cargurus or Cars.com

Top 6 picks of the safest used cars for teens and small families:

These picks meet all the requirements above and all preferences, too.  They are generally reasonable all-around cars and SUVs, and many can be found around $10,000 or less in many areas, depending on year and mileage:

  1. 2013-2017 Volvo S60.  IIHS Top Safety Pick+.  NHTSA 5-star ratings in every test.  Standard City Safety package and optional Technology Package with improved automatic emergency braking
  2. 2013-2014 Honda Accord Sedan.  IIHS Top Safety Pick+ including Good small overlap passenger-side test.  NHTSA 5-star rating
  3. 2013-2014 Honda Accord Coupe.  IIHS Top Safety Pick+. NHTSA 5-star ratings in every test
  4. 2014-2016 Mazda CX-5. IIHS Top Safety Pick+.  NHTSA 5-star rating.  Optional Smart City Brake Support
  5. 2014-2015 Mazda 6.  IIHS Top Safety Pick+.  NHTSA 5-star rating. Optional Smart City Brake Support
  6. 2013-2015 Volkswagen Passat.  IIHS Top Safety Pick+.  NHTSA 5-star rating

Top 12 honorable mentions of safe used cars for teen drivers & families:

These picks meet every requirement above, but do not meet at least one of the preferences I listed.  All of them are safe choices and many can be found well below $10,000.

  1. 2013-2014 Subaru Legacy.  IIHS Top Safety Pick+.  NHTSA 5-star rating.  Look for the IIHS top-rated EyeSight crash avoidance system with automatic emergency braking
  2. 2012 Volvo S60.  IIHS Top Safety Pick.  NHTSA 5-star ratings in every test
  3. 2011+ Honda Odyssey.  IIHS Top Safety Pick.  NHTSA 5-star rating.  Very safe choice if you can find one around $10K
  4. 2013 Ford Taurus.  IIHS Top Safety Pick.  NHTSA 5-star rating
  5. 2012-2014 Dodge Charger.  IIHS Top Safety Pick.  NHTSA 5-star rating
  6. 2015-2018 Volkswagen Jetta.  IIHS Top Safety Pick.  NHTSA 5-star rating
  7. 2013 Ford Fusion.  IIHS Top Safety Pick+.  NHTSA 5-star rating
  8. 2011+ Kia Optima.  IIHS Top Safety Pick.  NHTSA 5-star rating. A top value choice
  9. 2013-2015 Ford Focus.  IIHS Top Safety Pick.  NHTSA 5-star rating.  Many models equipped with hands-free bluetooth. A top value choice
  10. 2012-2015 Hyundai Elantra*.  IIHS Top Safety Pick.  NHTSA 5-star rating.  A top value choice. (*2012 “Later Release” models earn 5-stars overall from NHTSA)
  11. 2007+ Volvo XC90*.  IIHS Top Safety Pick with a “Good” small offset crash result and NHTSA 5-star ratings (*previous crash testing system) starting in 2007.  Standard stability control and side curtain airbags as far back as 2007 also
  12. 2007+ Volvo S80*.  An excellent performer in all crash tests.  Also widest for 3 kids/carseats in back. (*No NHTSA results)

Best safety splurge choice: 2015+ Subaru Legacy Premium with EyeSight.  Though usually at least $12,000 at the time of this publication, a 2015 Legacy may well be worth the extra expense because of the great crash test results, good reliability, good visibility & standard all-wheel drive.  Try to find one equipped with the available EyeSight system that is among the best advanced safety packages with frontal crash mitigation on the market today.  When searching online, look for “Automatic Emergency Braking” or “Adaptive Cruise Control” options.  A reasonably wide back seat makes it a decent family choice for carseats as well.  Legacy is a repeat winner of our Safest Sedan award.

 

Safe New Economy Vehicle Requirements: 

For new cars, it’s not hard to find economy models that earned an IIHS Top Safety Pick or “Plus” award.  The problem is that almost all of them only earn the award on top trim levels or with a pricey optional technology package. By the time you add it all up, they are no longer inexpensive and it may also be harder to find one at the dealer that actually earns the IIHS safety award.  Our objective requirements:

  • 2019 IIHS Top Safety Pick or TSP+ Standard on ALL trim levels
  • 2019 NHTSA 5-star overall rating
  • 2019 NHTSA 5-stars in every frontal and side impact crash test
  • MSRP Under $25,000

New Car Safest Value Pick: 2019+ Honda Insight 4-door sedan.  An IIHS Top Safety Pick+ with STANDARD safety features on EVERY trim level, even the base LX model!  Kudos to Honda for including advanced, active crash prevention on every single 2019 Insight that you see on a dealer’s lot.  Combined with a 5-star overall NHTSA crash rating and 5-stars in every individual NHTSA evaluation, your teen will be very safe for under $24,000 MSRP. Street prices with incentives start around $22,000 for LX trim.  Though it’s among the larger and heavier compact cars, it’s no wider in back than most compact sedans or CUVs for 3-across carseats.  Otherwise, it’s a top choice for a teen or small family and gets around 50 mpg, making it a great long term value as well!  (Does not apply to earlier models).

New Car Midsize Safety Pick:  The 2018+ Toyota Camry is an IIHS Top Safety Pick STANDARD in all trim levels, and a Top Safety Pick+ in models with adaptive headlights.  It received a 5-star overall NHTSA rating and 5-stars in every single NHTSA evaluation.  That means great safety ratings for every Camry they make, including the L trim that is a hair over $24K with a street price of around $22K after incentives.  The LE trim adds alloy wheels, a 60/40 split folding rear seat and is still under our $25,000 MSRP limit with lease offers usually well under $250 a month.  Compared to our other new car choices, Camry is a little wider and has more legroom in back, so it will be friendlier for three carseats or occupants.

Splurge CUV Safety Picks: The 2019+ Subaru Forester Mazda CX-5 also earn an IIHS Top Safety Pick in all trim levels, and a Top Safety Pick+ on some trim levels with improved headlights.  Both also earn 5-stars overall from the NHTSA and 5-stars in every crash test evaluation, with 4-star rollover ratings.   CX-5 Sport and Forester both have an MSRP starting under $25,000, though street prices are generally not discounted as much as sedans.  The edge goes to Forester with its top-rated EyeSight crash avoidance system and AWD standard on all Forester trim levels.   The base 2WD CX-5 Sport comes with a less effective automatic emergency braking system, though a superior system is standard on Touring trims.  Small utility vehicles are trendy but they aren’t quite as wide as a midsize model like Camry, making them less friendly for three passengers or carseats in back.  They are also a little pricier and get substantially lower highway fuel economy than the larger Camry.

Looking for a safe minivan or 3-row SUV for a larger family?  Check out Safedad’s Top Picks for 2019.

Is it worth it to spend this much?  Raising a child to 16 years old is a huge financial expense.  Paying for college is also extremely expensive.  By comparison, paying for a reasonably safe vehicle seems like a relatively small expense to make sure your teen makes it safely through high school, college and beyond!  Statistics prove that driving a car and riding with other teen drivers is by far the most dangerous thing most teens do on a daily basis and may be single greatest risk to their life.  The impulse may be to let the new driver use the oldest car in the household or to buy them a 15-20 year sub-compact car with marginal safety ratings and an unknown crash history.  Having your newer car banged up in a crash is a sad thought but having your inexperienced teen driver injured is far worse!

 

Suggestions?  This list isn’t all inclusive.  If you see a model with an IIHS Top Safety Pick or TSP+, an NHTSA 5-star overall rating, sells for around $10K or less and meets our other requirements listed above, please feel free to add it in the comments.

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