Choosing the best car for your teenager can be one of the most stressful tasks of any partaken by a parent. Finding one that is safe, reliable, and affordable can be relatively easy if you look hard enough; but, finding one that is safe, reliable, and affordable, that also appeals to the teen’s style sense, can be trying indeed. Sometimes that middle ground isn’t quite big enough for both of you to stand on. If you’re about to come upon that time of woeful inevitability, here’s some tips to help guide you through the process and help you pick the best car for your teenager.


Obviously the most important feature of your teen’s car is going to be the safety record. We always hope that accidents don’t happen, but they do. Every time your child gets behind the wheel, you want to do your absolute best to make sure he/she is protected as well as possible. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has adopted new, stricter crash testing standards for the 2011 model year. Any car you purchase in this model year will have been put through the most rigorous testing in history. You can find out how certain models did in these tests by visiting their website at or by reading vehicle reviews on and A full array of airbags and safety features such as collision detection systems and blind-spot warning systems don’t hurt either.


As a wise man once said, knowledge is power; and the only way to get that power is through research. Knowing how reliable certain vehicles are is sometimes a crapshoot. Anything mechanical is, after all, eventually going to break down. But you can play the percentages on most models by doing your homework. Check out model reviews from previous model years on Edmunds (, Car and Driver (, and Consumer Reports ( See if the vehicle has been given a recent refresh. If so, it may be wiser to wait a year or two on that model to see how the new changes perform. Check out the personal reviews from owners on those sites and message boards here on Remember, one bad apple doesn’t always spoil the bunch; make sure you read lots of reviews on whatever particular model has captured your attention before deciding.


You remember what it was like to be a teen, don’t you? Always in a hurry, always trying to impress your peers, and always going one step further than you’re capable, just to see if you can. That being said, when you look at powertrain, think small and fuel efficient. Something in the way of a four-cylinder or small V6 is definitely adequate, and should make your teen much happier if he/she is filling the gas tank out-of-pocket. Standard transmissions should really be out of the question as well. Don’t give somebody with very little driving experience any more to do than physically necessary. Learning a manual transmission is very smart, but it’s something that should be learned and mastered before owned and driven solo. Teach your teen stick-shift on your vehicle or a friend’s or family member’s first. Front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive is also preferable if you live in climates that get heavy rain or snow, as these provide better handling in inclement weather.

Interior Space/Amenities

This depends on what your teen will be using the vehicle for. If he/she is going to be carpooling to school or carrying lots of sports equipment, you may want to look at a decent crossover SUV or midsize sedan. If it’s just to get from A to B, then a safe compact sedan or less-powerful coupe may appeal more to your teen’s style preferences. Remember, style does matter. It’s difficult enough being a teen without getting the third degree from your friends about the atrocity you’re driving around in. While most kids will be happy just to have a car of their own, make sure you try for some common ground here.

One place you may need to put your foot down is in the area of options and amenities. Perhaps the two best options you can spring for are a decent navigation system and Bluetooth. Having the security that your child won’t get lost and can talk on the cell phone hands-free will be better for your piece of mind and it’ll give your kid something to brag to his/her friends about. However, upgraded sound systems, rear-DVD entertainment systems, and heated leather seats are all upgrades that can detract your child from the road and suck unneeded money out of your pocket.


Speaking of money, that’s really what it all comes down to in the end. We all have a budget we must adhere to, and if you’re forking over most or all of the dough for this purchase, you’re going to want it to be a sound investment. One of the big costs to remember with any teen driver is insurance. Coupes and cars with bigger engines will run insurance rates up in a big hurry, especially for underage drivers. Compact sedans and midsize sedans are fairly safe, and most reliable models can be had for anywhere from $15K to $25K. Crossover SUVs start more in the neighborhood of $20K, and can climb higher with options. Full-size trucks can also be had in this range, but make sure your child has some experience handling a larger vehicle before sending him/her out on the road in one.

Happy hunting!

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