How To Choose The Best Car For A Teenage Driver

If you plan to buy your teen their own car when they start driving (or they plan to buy one themselves,) you want to get the safest, most reliable one that fits your budget. Here's what you should pay attention to when choosing which car to buy.

Consumer Reports put together a list of cars they recommend, based on the following criteria, which you can also use to narrow down your choices:

  • What advanced safety features does the car have? This commonly includes electronic stability control (ESC), side and head curtain airbags, and anti-lock brakes. They specifically say you should absolutely rule out cars without anti-lock brakes.
  • How did the car fare during crash tests? Cars with high ratings in crash test performance from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) are good bets, and important to research, especially for younger, more inexperienced drivers.
  • What model year is the car? Some features are standard on cars after a certain year. For example ESC is almost always included on cars produced after 2012.
  • How reliable is the car? You'll have to rely on reviews from other people or well-known review sites to determine how the car will perform in the coming years, but consider longevity, total cost-of-ownership, and cost-to-repair.

Beyond this criteria, Consumer Reports notes some cars (namely 4WDs) are more prone to rolling over, and others encourage dangerous driving (sportscars). The above video also goes into specific recommendations, not all of which are available in Australia. Nevertheless, there's plenty of general advice that applies Down Under.

Best Used Cars for Teens [Consumer Reports]


    The main thing is don't cheap out. Having attended more than a few crashes, one of the major factors in determining survival is the age of the vehicle and ANCAP rating. Old cars with few or no safety features are death traps.

    It's a rite of passage that teenage drivers will, sooner or later, deliberately or accidentally, do something stupid. That, in combination with a lack of experience, results in bad accidents. Their lives depend on the integrity and protective ability of the steel cage around them.

    Of course, a safe car isn't a panacea. And a bad enough stack will kill regardless of the vehicle. And then there's the argument that safer car = more complacent drivers. But, in any like-for-like accident, the condition and safety of the vehicle can make a crucial difference in who lives and who doesn't.

    To close, a couple of additional suggestions to those in the article above
    1. ensure the car has an annoying beep if the driver's seatbelt isn't fastened. Sorry dissenters, but seatbelts do stop people dying (mostly from uncontrolled ejection from the vehicle)
    2. unless the existing tyres are good quality and have plenty of tread, replace them. And teach the teenager how to check and maintain pressures.

    How about actually teaching your kids to drive?

    I don't mean teaching them how to operate a car, they can teach monkeys to do that. I mean actually teaching them to Drive. Sure a nice modern car with all of the safety widgets is a damn good start, but if junior has no real idea how to Drive their shiny new toy in the real world it's only a matter of time before things get messy.

    Most people are at best only fair drivers, and tend to pass on their hard won bad habits on to their kids, while most driving schools will only teach your kids HOW TO PASS THE TEST. Nothing more.

    Get your young 'uns to a proper advanced driving school that teaches both roadcraft and driving skills before they get on the road. The roadcraft will teach them how to avoid most potentially lethal situations, and the driving skills will teach them how to react correctly when despite their best efforts they have found themselves in a dangerous situation.

    Avoiding the crash in the first place has got to be the better option.

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