Keep Your Teen Driver Safe With These Cars

img637447495 1491942477724 jpg ferrerivideo/iStock/Thinkstock

CARS.COM — Traffic fatalities in the U.S. are up an alarming 10 percent — the biggest jump in decades — and teens are 1.6 times more likely to be involved in a deadly crash than adults. If you’re a parent shopping for a used car for your teenage driver, you’re naturally going to want to keep your child safe on the roads — and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety wants to help with its comprehensive list of the safest used vehicles for teens.

Related: Among Risky Drivers, Millennials Are Worst by a Mile

The list includes 49 “best” choices costing $20,000 or less, and 82 “good” choices for $10,000 or less. The institute has published the list annually since 2014, and the criteria became more stringent this year, for the first time factoring in small overlap front crash protection from its Top Safety Pick crashworthiness program for best choices.

Here are 10 of IIHS’ best choices for the money among used vehicles for your teen averaging less than $10,000. We’ve ranked them by price from most to least expensive.

10. Nissan Altima sedan (2013 or newer; built after November 2012), $9,500

9. Volkswagen Jetta (2015 or newer), $9,200

8. Volkswagen Passat (2013 or newer; built after October 2012), $8,700

7. Kia Optima (2011 or newer), $7,600

6. Ford Flex (2010 or newer; built after January 2010), $7,200

5. Mitsubishi Outlander Sport (2011 or newer; $6,900)

4. Chrysler 200 sedan (2011 or newer), $5,900

3. Dodge Avenger (2011-14), $5,300

2. Volvo S80 (2007 or newer), $4,000

1. Volvo XC90 (2005 or newer), $2,500

For the full list of IIHS’ picks for best used cars for teens up to $20,000, as well as good choices for $10,000 or less — for which qualifying criteria was also raised this year — go to

“Good crash protection is more affordable than ever, so there’s no need to skimp on safety when it comes to a vehicle for a young driver,” said David Zuby, IIHS executive vice president and chief research officer, in a statement.

When compiling the list, researchers adhered to some basic principles, like that young drivers shouldn’t be trusted with fast cars so those with powerful engines were disqualified; that bigger, heavier vehicles are considered to be safer, so subcompact cars are out; and that electronic stability control is a must, even on cars built before the feature became mandatory in 2012.

Cars deemed good had to have received good ratings in IIHS’ three crashworthiness tests as well as four or five stars if tested under the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s 5-Star Safety Ratings program. Best-rated cars also had to receive good scores from IIHS in rollover crashes, and good or acceptable in its stringent small overlap test, which simulates when the corner of a vehicle strikes an object such as a utility pole or tree.

IIHS offered these additional safety tips for parents shopping for a used car for their teen:

  • Check for outstanding recalls on a prospective purchase by searching the vehicle identification number at
  • Notify the automaker of your purchase to ensure you receive future recall notices.
  • Amid the massive ongoing Takata airbag crisis, NHTSA recommends checking its recall page every six months to stay updated on affected vehicles.
  • Parents whose children are still years away from driving should plan ahead and, if possible, purchase their next family vehicle with consideration for its IIHS and NHTSA safety ratings, then hand the car down when the time comes.
Photo of Matt Schmitz
Former Assistant Managing Editor-News Matt Schmitz is a veteran Chicago journalist indulging his curiosity for all things auto while helping to inform car shoppers. Email Matt Schmitz

Featured stories

chevrolet suburban 2024 01 exterior front angle scaled jpg
honda civic 2025 02 exterior front angle scaled jpg
tesla model 3 2024 01 exterior front angle grey scaled jpg