The best cars for teenagers, or any new driver, should also be the safest cars for teens, since protecting your teen driver is your first priority. You’ll also want a car that is both affordable and reliable.
According to the National Center for Health Statistics, motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death among 15- to 20-year olds. A safe car is a necessity when it comes to new drivers.
Carinsurance.com has compiled a list of the best cars for teens that should make your job a bit easier. These vehicles all receive high safety ratings and shouldn’t break the budget.
Here are the requirements we set:
- Only two of 10 cost more than $15,000
- They are rated an Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) Top Safety Pick
- They keep fuel costs low with an EPA rating of at least 20-mpg combined (except one)
Best cars for new drivers
Since safety is a huge factor for teen drivers, in addition to earning a “Top Safety Pick” designation from the IIHS, all of our vehicles are at least a 2015 which means they come with electronic stability control (ESC). ESC was required as standard equipment on vehicles starting in 2012.
ESC helps drivers regain control of a vehicle during a slide and can be a real lifesaver. According to Anne McCartt, senior vice president for research at the IIHS, ESC is a must. “Parents should never consider any vehicle that doesn’t have electronic stability control,” she said.
Here are a few of the safest used cars available, along with their average cost according to Edmunds, and the average annual policy cost for an 18-year-old who is buying their own insurance coverage:
Cheapest car to insure for teenager
The best cars for teenagers are the ones that are the cheapest to insure. Insurance rates can be expensive, but there are ways to save money on your car insurance.
We have come up with a list of the best cars to insure for your teen driver.
According to Carinsurance.com’s rate analysis, here are the cheapest cars to buy for new drivers and know how much it will cost you to insure them.
Choosing the best cars for teenagers: Safety first, then price
What teens are looking for in good first cars and what you want them driving are often two different things.
Boring is the way to go, according to Penny Gusner, senior consumer analyst with CarInsurance.com. “Parents need to look for a boring, used car with lots of safety features. You want a car that the teen isn’t going to drive beyond their skills. Sedans are popular choices for novice drivers.”
After safety, most parents are looking for affordability.
All of the vehicles on our list busted the $10,000 barrier but one came in very close. The 2016 VW Jetta can be found for around $10,500 in many places but you may end up paying more for higher trim levels.
The most expensive car on the broke through our $15,000 budget by $2,000. The 2017 Hyundai Tucson runs around $17,000 but it is a 2017 which is a year newer than most of the other vehicles on the list.
Depending on what version of the Tucson you end up buying it could be loaded with safety features that not only keep your child safe but could also result in a big insurance discount.
Tucson Sport and Limited models come with blind spot monitoring, lane change assist, and rear cross-traffic alert. If you bump up to a used Tucson Limited expect lane departure warning, rear parking sensors, forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking, and adaptive headlights.
McCartt likes bigger cars for teen drivers. “When thinking about safety, parents may focus on features like the number of airbags, but a key part of crash protection is a vehicle’s size and weight. Bigger, heavier vehicles are more protective in crashes than smaller, lighter ones,” explains McCartt.
The Chevy Traverse is a great example of a bigger vehicle that is still affordable to purchase and insure. It pushes up against our budget, coming in a $14,900 but it is also the cheapest vehicle on our list to insure with an average premium of $1,180.
Whatever car you choose, make sure your teenager feels comfortable behind the wheel of the car they will be driving, advises Carl Anthony, Managing Editor of Automoblog.
Consider your surroundings as well. “As an example, if you live somewhere with rough winters and lots of snow, it is advantageous to place your teen driver in a vehicle with four-wheel drive.
Many small SUVs and crossovers today have four-wheel or all-wheel drive as an option,” says Anthony. “Smaller versions of these vehicles will be easier for a young driver to maneuver and will be less expensive to purchase and maintain as well.”
The Toyota RAV4 fits this bill. A small SUV that is loaded with safety features. It costs a bit more, coming in at $16,500 but it’s fairly low insurance cost of $1,278 will help make it more affordable.
Sports cars are an obvious no-no. Teen driver don’t need the horsepower. “I would not recommend putting your teenage driver in a sports, performance, or muscle car,” says Anthony.
Teen drivers: Better to put them on your insurance or their own?
While you certainly love your teen, there is a good chance your insurer will not. Car insurance for young drivers, whether you add them to your policy or they get their own, is always expensive. Teens bring stacks of risk to the table and insurance companies will charge you for that risk.
Teens are lousy drivers when they first get behind the wheel and car accidents are the leading killer of teens. According to data from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS):
- 16-year-olds have higher crash rates than drivers of any other age
- 56 percent of teens said they talk on the phone while driving
- 2,820 teenagers ages 13-19 died in motor vehicle crashes in 2016.
These depressing stats are a major reason for your impending premium increase. “Parents will normally see their car insurance bill double when adding a teen,” says Gusner.
One of the biggest questions parents have when it comes to cars for teens and insurance is whether they should put the teen on their policy or get the teen their own policy, if that is even an option.
Teens under the age of 18 may have a difficult time getting their own policy. An insurance policy is considered a contract which comes with legal ramifications. In order to legally sign an insurance policy, a person must have reached the “age of majority.”
This is the age that the state you live in considers a child to have become an adult. Once a person reaches the age of majority they can consent to medical treatment, sign a contract, and do everything else an adult can legally do.
The age of majority varies by state, but in all states, it is at least 18. There are a couple of states that have pushed the age of majority even higher. Alabama and Nebraska put their age of majority at 19. All of this means that in most circumstances, putting a teen on their own policy is not an option unless they are at least 18.
However, in most cases, it is cheaper to add a new driver to your policy than get them their own. We ran the numbers and adding a 16-year male to a parent’s full coverage policy will push your premium up to $1,934.
The pain is slightly less when adding a female of the same age, your premium will only go up $1,592. While this is obviously a huge increase, it pales in comparison to putting a teen on their own policy.
We also looked at the cost of putting a 19-year-old on a parent’s policy when compared to a teen getting their own policy. The savings was pretty dramatic, for a male, the price difference was $1,193 and for a female, it was a more reasonable $858.
In the end, putting your newly licensed teen on your policy is almost always cheaper than getting them their own policy as the charts below show:
Safest cars for teens if you are not on a budget
If you have an unlimited budget for your teens vehicle there are plenty of great options out there. A brand-new car comes with all of the latest safety features as well as a warranty so you can rest assured your new driver will be fully protected.
We put together an entire list of safe new cars that are affordable to insure, but here are a few examples of some of the safest cars for teens that are brand new and won’t empty your bank account to insure.
Small Cars: When it comes to small cars, they are all less expensive to insure than the national average. The cheapest vehicle to insure in this category comes in 22% lower than the national average.
Subaru is obviously a big winner in this category and an added benefit is the fact that the EyeSight suite of accident-avoidance technologies are now standard on all Subarus so even drivers who choose the base model still get all the safety essentials.
- SubaruXV Crosstrek 2.0I: $1,397
- Subaru Impreza 2.0I Limited: $1,526
- Kia Niro Touring: $1,566
- Subaru Impreza 2.0I Limited: $1,622
Midsize Cars: These cars are slightly bigger which can be a bonus if your teen is involved in an accident. Once again, Subaru is the bigger winner with two models on this list.
- Subaru Outback 3.6R Touring: $1,467
- Subaru Legacy 3.6R Limited: $1,569
- Toyota Camry XSE: $1,676
- Hyundai Sonata Sport: $1,718
Small SUVs and Crossovers: A small SUV or Crossover often make good cars for teens. This category has become extremely popular in recent years.
Automotive industry tracker, LMC Automotive found that 84% of the vehicles sold by General Motors in the U.S. will be a truck or SUV by 2022, and Ford’s ratio of SUV and truck sales will hit 90% and Fiat Chrysler’s could hit 97%.
- Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring: $1,424
- Hyundai Tucson Limited: $1,451
- Toyota RAV4 LE: $1,526
- Subaru Forester 2.5I Sport: $1,529
This is just a small sample of cheap to insure new vehicles on our list, check out the full list of the cars with the best safety ratings.
A few strategies for insurance and cars for teens
When it comes to insurance and new drivers there are a few options for parents:
Assign the teen to your policy:
This is probably the most common and best way to deal with a new driver. While adding a teen to your policy can easily push your insurance costs up anywhere from 100% to 200%, it is often the cheapest and most convenient option. If your new driver is under 18 this may be the only option as teens cannot sign a contract.
Buy the teen a late-model used car:
This is usually a pretty expensive option but if you have the budget it can be a good option. A newer vehicle will come with plenty of safety features, but your insurance costs will absolutely go up.
If you are considering this option be sure to get insurance quotes on any vehicle you are considering so there are no surprises when it comes time to put a policy in place. Stick to boring vehicles that are packed with advanced safety features to help keep your insurance costs somewhat affordable.
Buy the teen a beater car:
There are plenty of cheap cars for teens available and putting them in a beater may make sense. A cheap older car may lower your insurance premium, but the vehicle will lack the most recent safety features.
If the vehicle is old enough you may be able to dump comprehensive and collision coverage which will lower your premium even further. If you would replace the vehicle instead of repairing it if it was in an accident, there is no need to carry these coverages.
Giving the teen his or her own beater car and policy:
If your teen is old enough to sign a contract (18 in most states) you may want to put them in a beater and on their own policy.
This is never going to be the cheapest option, putting a teen on their own policy is almost always more expensive than adding them to your policy, assuming they don’t have numerous tickets or accidents.
If you put your teen on their own policy, you may want to exclude them from yours. This means that there will be zero insurance coverage if your teen joyrides your car so make sure they understand they cannot drive your vehicles under any circumstances.
Safety and car Insurance tips for teen drivers
Once a teen hits your policy there is no way to avoid the pain of a major rate increase. However, it is possible to minimize the damage a bit. Here are a few tips to keep your premium affordable:
Be a role model: “A well-trained driver is the most important safety feature in any car,” says Doug Herbert, founder of Put On The B.R.A.K.E.S. “Practice frequently with your teen driver and be a good role model behind the wheel.”
Make the consequences clear: Make it very clear to your teen what will happen if they get a speeding ticket or even worse, a DUI. “A D.U.I. ticket will cost teenagers big time. As a teen driver, you’ll likely be canceled and if you can get insurance, expect to pay a much higher rate for the next three to five years.
Traffic crashes and citations will also impact your premium. Rack up more than three and teens face cancellation or non-renewal,” warns Carole Walker, Executive Director of the Rocky Mountain Insurance Information Association.
Teen-driver course discounts: Many insurers offer safety courses or programs targeting teens. Most come with some type of discount once your teen completes the course.
“Ask your insurer if there are discounts for a driver’s education course or if they have a teen program,” says Gusner. State Farm has Steer Clear, Safeco has RightTrack, and American Family has a Teen Safe Driver Program.”
These programs usually involve driving training via an app as well as monitoring their driving via the app or a plug-in device. Once your teen completes the program a discount is applied to your policy.
Defensive driving course: If your teen has been trained on how to deal with less than ideal situations out on the road it should lessen their odds of getting into an accident, which is music to an insurer’s ears.
Check with your insurer to see if they offer a discount for completing a defensive driving course. Discounts vary but 10 percent is fairly common.
Consider the car: If you are putting your teen in a newer vehicle, look for one that has teen specific safety features. “New Chevrolet vehicles utilize a feature called Teen Driver, which employs a number of parental control settings.
For example, parents can set a speed alert, limit radio volume, and access an in-vehicle report card that gives them an idea as to how their teenager is driving,” advises Anthony.
“Don’t assume an old clunker is your best insurance bet. Newer makes and models are designed to be safer and discounts may be available if you have automatic seatbelts and airbags, as well as other active safety features,” says Walker.
Buy umbrella coverage: Consider an umbrella liability policy. In our litigious society, you may want to have an extra layer of liability protection. For about $150 to $300 per year, you can buy a $1 million personal umbrella liability policy.
Good student discount. Tell Junior to keep his grades up. “Most insurers offer a discount, some as high as 25%, for students who maintain at least a B average,” says Walker.
Raise deductibles: Bumping up your deductible can be a major money saver, as long as you can easily afford it. Doubling your deductible can shave 10 to 20 percent off of your premium. Always choose a deductible that you can afford in the event you have to make a claim on your policy.
Bundling: If you carry a variety of policies with your insurance company you should be getting a bundling discount. “If you have homeowners, renters, or life insurance with the same insurer, ask for a discount. Bundling can be a significant money saver, up to 25 percent,” says Gusner.
Policy adjustments for college: Once Junior is ready to head off to college you may be able to lower your premium, especially if they are headed to a college over 100 miles away and will not be taking a car with them.
“When your teen heads off to college, you may be eligible for lower premiums, provided the car stays behind. Many insurers will reduce rates for students attending a school at least 100 miles away from home who do not have a car on campus,” says Gusner.
What is the best starter car for a teenager? One with plenty of safety features
It is always tempting to put a teen in an old car and save a bit of coin but that can be a mistake. New cars (or newish ones) come with solid safety ratings, as well as advanced safety features which can help prevent accidents.
Here are a few of the latest advanced safety features to search for when looking for cars for teens:
- Lane departure alerts: This system detects if the vehicle is drifting out of its lane or changing lanes without first signaling. This system will alert the driver with a visual and audible alert.
- Forward-collision warning: This advanced safety system keeps an eye on the road in front of the car and alerts the driver if it feels a collision seems likely. If the driver ignores the alert, an automatic emergency braking system will bring the car to a stop or slow it down as much as possible before a collision. This system can literally be a lifesaver to a distracted teen.
- Rear cross-traffic alert: When the car is in reverse, backing out of a parking space or driveway, this system will send an audible alert if another vehicle is detected crossing the vehicle’s rear path. This can help teens avoid an accident and an expensive claim.
- Blindspot warning: A blind spot warning system keeps an eye on the blind spots of the vehicle and will alert the driver if a vehicle enters their blind spot.
Things to consider when shopping for the best used cars for teens
- Stay away from sports cars: The perfect car for a new driver is never a sports car. A powerful engine and a hankering for speed make these cars a recipe for disaster when it comes to teen drivers. Stick to a boring sedan with a smallish engine.
- Bigger vehicles are safer: If your teen is in an accident the bigger the car, the better the outcome. This doesn’t mean you have to put your teen in a Hummer, just avoid the smallest cars and consider going for a midsize or above if possible. A small SUV weighs roughly the same as a midsize car making these vehicles a good choice.
- Electronic stability control is a necessity: Electric stability control helps a driver maintain control of the vehicle in slippery conditions and curves. It also has a major impact on accident risk. ESC should be standard equipment on any vehicle you are considering for a teen. ESC was required as standard equipment starting in 2012.
- Look for best safety ratings: When it comes to the best used cars for teens you should always start by checking the safety ratings of any vehicles you are considering for your teen driver. At a minimum look for good ratings in the IIHS moderate overlap front, side, roof strength, and head restraint tests. If you are checking the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), only consider vehicles that have a four or five-star rating.
Related Articles & Guides
- Compare Car Insurance Now
- Best Car Insurance Companies
- Car Insurance Rates By States