IIHS names the best used cars under $20,000 (and under $10,000) for your teen

April 14, 2017

If you don't have a teen living under your roof, you might not have noticed, but 'tis the season for buying cars for young drivers. Whether they're looking for a gift to suit a high school grad (good luck with that, BTW) or something to send off a college-bound kid, parents across the country are scouring the lots for rides. 

Given the high cost of a brand new car, many shoppers choose to put their teen behind the wheel of a secondhand vehicle. Unfortunately, the number and range of vehicles on used-car lots can be seriously intimidating. Thankfully, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has created a suggested shopping list of used cars for young drivers, plus four handy hints that all parents should keep in mind.

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Those four bits of advice include:

1. Avoid high horsepower. Teens aren't known for excessive self-control, so it's not surprising that the IIHS suggests parents avoid buying cars with powerful engines. No matter what car parents purchase, a young driver will be tempted to push the engine to its limits, making an accident more likely. The higher the horsepower, the more dangerous that accident could be.

2. Size and weight are your friends. Small, sleek, and stylish cars may be attractive, but given how accident-prone teen drivers are, bigger cars are a better safety bet. They'll provide greater protection in the event of a crash.

3. Stick with electronic stability control (ESC). In the U.S., ESC has been mandatory on all new vehicles since the 2012 model year, so finding it isn't especially difficult. It was a common feature on vehicles from before 2012, too, but parents should check to make sure their car-of-choice has it. It'll help keep young drivers safer when they have to maneuver quickly on the road.   

4. Check the ratings from IIHS and NHTSA. Just as parents would check safety ratings for their own vehicles, they should be doubly aware of safety ratings on their kids' cars. The best-known ratings systems come from IIHS and NHTSA. Make sure your potential purchase fares well on both charts. 

Good cars and better cars

The IIHS knows that many families are watching every penny, and sometimes, they have to make decisions based on costs--even when it comes to their kids' cars. That's why the organization has divided its used-car recommendations into two categories: the best cars for teens and good cars for teens.

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The good cars all start below $10,000. The best cars start below $20,000, though some offer Kelley Blue Book values as low as $2,500. Here are a few of the top choices:

Best cars

  • Large car: Volvo S80 (2007 and newer, starting at $4,000)
  • Midsize car: Dodge Avenger (2011-2014, starting at $5,300)
  • Small SUV: Mitsubishi Outlander Sport (2011 and newer, starting at $6,900)
  • Midsize SUV: Volvo XC90 (2005 and newer, starting at $2,500)
  • Minivan: Kia Sedona (2015 and newer, starting at $14,700)
  • Pickup: Toyota Tundra extended cab (2014 and newer, starting at $15,600)

Good cars

  • Large car: Ford Taurus (2009 and newer, starting at $4,300)
  • Midsize car: Saab 9-3 (2005-2011, starting at $2,000)
  • Small SUV: Mitsubishi Outlander (20072-2013, starting at $3,900)
  • Midsize SUV: Ford Taurus X (2008-2009, starting at $3,700)
  • Large SUV: Saturn Outlook (2008-09, built after March 2008, starting at $5,000)
  • Minivan: Kia Sedona (2006-2014, starting at $2,500)
  • Pickup: Toyota Tundra extended cab (2007-2013, starting at $8,400)

The IIHS has many, many more suggestions for anyone needing a ride for a teen driver. Watch the video above, which explains the IIHS's shopping criteria, then check the full list of suggested vehicles here

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