Top 8 Safest Used Cars for Teen Drivers

It’s a bit scary to think about it.  In the blink of an eye, your infant just turned 16 and now they’re asking to get behind the wheel.  Sure, you’ve let them drive the three minutes to the store while your stronghold on the dashboard is leaving imprints but something beyond their lack of experience makes you feel nervous.  You realize, it’s not just your teenager on the road, it’s also everyone else and that bubble you’ve wanted to keep them in forever suddenly has wheels.

When it comes time to finally pick a car for your teenager, how do you know which is the right choice?  Like the numerous lessons you have taught your children, learning how to be a smart consumer should continue to be one of them.  Make choosing the correct used car be a joint effort.  Involve your teen and get them in on the process of researching used cars.   

There is certain set of criteria that should be followed when searching for safety of your new driver’s vehicle.  First, a young driver should never have a car with a lot of horsepower.  It’s just too enticing and too dangerous.  Second, larger cars tend to provide more protection.

There are no small cars on the list below for a reason.  Make sure to look for ESC, electronic stability control.  This aids in the driver’s ability to remain stable on curves and slippery roads.  Research and know what the safety rating is for the car you want to purchase.

Obviously you want the vehicle to offer the best in safety ratings.  NHTSA and IIHS ratings are important to look for as they provide the most thorough and comprehensive testing in safety measures.

2012 Chevy Malibu

Topping all lists was the Chevy Malibu any year from 2010 on.  I choose the 2012 because it has some of the updated equipment teenagers lately come to expect; Bluetooth connectivity, satellite radio and steering wheel mounted audio controls.  The 2012 version was ranked number one in both Affordable Midsize Cars and Midsize Cars $15K and Up.  JD Power and Associates gave it the highest 5 circles rating for reliability.  It’s fuel economy is great while operating under a 4 cylinder engine getting 22 mpg city and 33 mpg highway.  The optional V6 has more horsepower (warning) and less impressive fuel economy, a combined average of 21 mpg.  As a midsize sedan it is both comfortable and quiet with responsive steering and straightforward controls.

2010 Ford Fusion

2010 fusion

A fully engaged midsize sedan, the 2010 Ford Fusion always places at top with practicality.   Excellent ratings in safety, reliability and spaciousness the 2010 Fusion won Motor Trend’s Car of the Year award.  Updated safety features included six air bags, anti-lock brakes and ESC.  Blind-spot monitoring also became standard that year.  The base 4 cylinder gets 22 mpg city and 31 mpg highway; standard for its class and size and keeps the horsepower to a minimum.  Highest safety standards are met with the Ford Fusion so it leaves little to worry about.

2011 Kia Optima

The 2011 model year so a completely updated Optima and the consumers are still impressed.  Its fully redesigned look won it the title of best looking in its class.  Your teen will definitely be impressed with its sporty wheels while you get to rest easy knowing it’s also tops in safety and engine performance.

With an impressive 24 mpg city and 35 mpg highway, its 4 cylinder engine comes as is and turbocharged, which may be less likely to settle well with you.  Understandably so.  New drivers should probably stick with base models, even just to keep mom and dad sleeping well at night.

2010 Toyota Camry

2010 camry

Toyota is known for its reliability.  The 2010 Camry is just that as well as comfortable and spacious.  While it didn’t exactly ‘wow’ the critics, it’s solid ride made it a great choice for teenage driver who has a busy sports schedule.  Including a large trunk space to carry their athletic equipment it offers very few frills which means less distraction and a safer driver. The 2010 Camry shines in good fuel economy and quiet ride.   Available in a 6 speed manual or automatic in the V6 engine, the 4 cylinder option still has the better gas mileage with a combined average of 27 mpg.

2011 Hyundai Sonata

After receiving a full update this model the critics were completely impressed.  Top safety scores, bold styling and spacious interior made this a banner year for Hyundai Sonata.  A fuel efficient four cylinder engine comes with 24 mpg city and 35 mpg highway.

Should teaching jr. how drive a manual sound like a stress-free day, a 6 speed manual shift transmission is available, as is automatic.  The 4 cylinder engine does also come available in turbocharged, but that may be a bit egregious.

Again, excellent safety ratings for this midsize sedan and priced right around $15,000 makes it a great contender for your teen.

2009 VW Jetta

2009 jetta

As the more expensive candidate in its class during the 2009 model year, the VW Jetta comes with all the bells and whistles that are still relevant to today’s youth.  Higher trims included USB connectivity, sunroof, keyless entry, touchscreen interface with navigation, 10 speaker stereo with MP3 playback.

Updates to safety also included electronic brake-force distribution, anti lock brakes as well as electronic stability control, which became standard starting in the 2009 year model. The smallest engine offered is a 2.5L 5 cylinder which is a bit more powerful than others in this category but does provide good fuel efficiency.  Best news about the Jetta, it will come in under $10,000.

2012 Chevy Equinox

As a midsize SUV, the 2012 Equinox provided updated safety features to protect and secure your young driver.   Given ample room and secure four wheel drive for all weather conditions, a heavier, sturdier vehicle is not a bad choice.  As a crossover it sits lower to the ground less likely to roll than some other SUVs.

Available in a 4 or 6 cylinder, the 6 does provide better acceleration for highway driving and passing, but for the inexperienced teen, the 4 cylinder may be a better bet as it also saves on fuel economy; 27 combined mpg compared to 21 combined mpg on the V6.

2012 Honda CR-V

2012 Honda crv

With 70.9 cubic feet of cargo space, this another SUV that is perfect for the athlete in the family.   Finally able to lug their hockey, baseball, softball and field hockey equipment around by themselves provides you with enough of a reprieve to appreciate your own clean and freshly scented car again!

Redesigned for this model year, there is only one engine option.  The 4 cylinder keeps it conservative and driving like a car rather than SUV.  It also keeps the fuel economy around the 27 or 25 mpg depending on two or all wheel drive option.  Coming in with exceptional safety ratings, choosing an SUV for your teen driver just became easy.

You may notice that all these vehicles are dated no further than 2009.  This is because certain with technology growing as fast as it does, safety features become outdated quickly and new features become standard according to new laws.  All these changes are there to ensure the manufacturers are providing the most recent safety technology.


As teenagers start driving they tend to be too eager or a bit intimidated.  Being a part of the decision process for choosing the correct vehicle to suit their needs as well as yours will make them feel more involved and better equipped to handle their new life as a driver.  Scary as it still may be to accept, it is with your help and setting examples that they become good drivers.


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