Top 5 Used Cars for First-Time Drivers

It’s hard to pick a vehicle for your teen out of all the Cincinnati used cars available, so it’s a good idea to start by doing some research. You don’t want to walk blindly onto a car lot (or private seller’s yard) and buy the first car your teen likes. That two-door sports car they want that only costs $4,000 is likely not reliable or safe enough for your new drive, which should be the first two priorities. As a parent, you know how it goes: safety first.

For your first-time driver, you are going to want something that’s affordable, reliable, safe, and fuel-friendly. There is no need for them to have an engine that puts out 400 horsepower, and certainly no need for a lifted truck with lights everywhere. If they were a drag racer or worked at night in the woods, then maybe they’d need one of those. But not for going to school, the mall, and then back home.

Taking all this into consideration, here are the top five used cars for first-time drivers. You will see that most of these, if not all of them, hit the most four important criteria I mentioned before: affordability, reliability, safety, and fuel-efficient. 

Honda Civic


A vehicle that is affordable and reliable is more valuable than you might realize. Consider how easy it is to fix, how cheap it is to fix, and how easy it is to find parts for something like a Honda Civic. You don’t want to gift your first-time driver with something like a Saturn, because Saturn doesn’t exist anymore. Any parts you get for it (if you could even find any) would be expensive, and most likely already lightly-used.

But the Honda Civic has been around forever, and because of that, there are thousands of parts out there. Not to mention, it hasn’t changed much in terms of design and parts within each generation. Most of the models between 2006-2011 share similar equipment. Along with easy access to cheap parts, the vehicle itself is built like a rock, and can go for upwards of 200,000 miles if it was/is properly maintained.

It won’t break the bank, the eighth generation 140 horsepower 1.8-liter engine gets 26 mpg city and 36 mpg highway, and is enough to get your first-time driver on the highway and nothing else. What more could you want from a car? After all, there’s a reason you see them all over the place.

Toyota Corolla


Just like the Honda Civic, the Toyota Corolla is another car that benefits from having an abundance of parts available, along with being built with reliability and affordability in mind. The 2006-2008 model years represent the end of the ninth generation Corolla, and is the one you will want to go with. Not only will a car from this generation most likely be priced under 10K, but it will also provide even better fuel economy than the Civic, considering the Corolla’s EPA estimates of 30 mpg city and 38 mpg highway.

The Corolla is, essentially, a Civic that get’s slightly better fuel economy, with the same type of engine, and more relaxed handling. It’s good if you want to discourage your son or daughter from trying to weave in and out of traffic on the highway, because the handling isn’t nearly as tight as some of the other cars out there.

Nissan Altima


The fourth-generation (2007-2012) Nissan Altima is bigger than both the Toyota Corolla and Honda Civic. Less focused on fuel economy and more focused on practicality, this sedan is intended for those who are looking for a long-range cruiser with your basic handling. Maybe your teen just got an acceptance letter to a college that’s a couple of states away, and you want them to have a solid car to travel the distance.

This car gets up to 27 mpg highway, thanks to a 175 horsepower 3.5-liter V6 under the hood, and costs less than both the Civic and Corolla. Where does this car stand out where the other two can’t? Comfort and storage space. Chances are, your college-bound student will have a lot of stuff to bring along, and you don’t want to travel with a second car just for cargo. The Altima will let them travel comfortably and still give them the space needed for all of their belongings.

The spacious cabin, big trunk, and reliable reputation when it comes to durability and maintenance make this a bargain. Just make sure to find one that’s been maintained properly.

Subaru Forester


If you live in an area that has heavy snow, maybe you don’t want a sedan for your new driver. Thankfully, crossovers like the 2004-2007 Subaru Forester are perfect options. The Forester is part of the Subaru brand, so you know it’s reliable. Albeit, the parts might be a little more expensive since it’s a foreign make, but it’s rare that something major happens to these vehicles. They are virtually bulletproof, with a 2.5-liter 170 horsepower four-cylinder engine that’s steady around town and on the highway. Plus, all-wheel drive comes standard, which is why the Forester can push through bad weather.

The crossover design also adds a unique versatility to it and provides a more robust ride compared to the other sedans on this list. The only downside is the fuel economy, which is 20 mpg city and 26 mpg highway.

With that in mind, it’s perfect for those who live in an area with lots of dirt roads or for short trips out with friends. But, if your teen needs to travel more than an hour regularly, the slightly low fuel economy might become costlier than you’d like.

Ford Ranger


With the same idea of utility in mind as the Forester, the 2004-2009 Ford Ranger is another good, affordable used vehicle for your teen. The Ranger has always been an oddball vehicle, so I’ll explain why it’s on this list. Aside from being affordable, it’s a single cab vehicle. That means less people in the cab, and less distractions. The body-on-frame design of trucks makes this the most durable option on this list, and the ability to find one with four-wheel drive makes it even safer. Finally, it’s got a truck bed, which opens up a whole new realm of accessibility.

Maybe your teen likes to hunt or fish and needs something outdoorsy? Or, maybe you want them to be able to grab firewood if they see it and haul it home? The point is, a truck bed opens up practical possibilities.

Plus, it’s a smaller truck. That means the fuel economy is halfway decent (26 mpg highway) from the 143 horsepowered 2.3-liter engine. If you think your teen might need something that’s a little more versatile and rugged than the rest of the vehicles on this list, go with the Ranger.


Best part is, these vehicles are all a dime a dozen. Since they are so popular in the market, you can most likely find all of these models (in the respective years mentioned) for under $10,000. Obviously, condition and mileage weigh heavily on the price, so you might even be able to get one for less.

I wouldn’t recommend going any cheaper than $4,000. Unless you find a diamond in the rough, most used cars priced that cheap probably need some work done on them. But, if you want a cheap, reliable, safe, and fuel-friendly vehicle for your first-time driver, then pick one of the steals from this list.

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