How to choose the right car for your teen driver


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Teenagers between the ages of 16 and 19 are the riskiest drivers on the road.

Driving a car safely can be challenging when you’re inexperienced, since it often requires the ability to recognize danger and make split-second decisions. But the right vehicle can help reduce the number of critical decisions your teen has to make and cut down on the likelihood of accidents and injuries.

You’ll have a lot of features to consider when shopping for a car for your teen, but here’s what to look for.

5 top priorities to consider for your teen driver


The best safety measure is ensuring your teen has a good driver’s education. But safety features can help compensate for what any educated teen driver may lack in experience and maturity. Here’s what to prioritize when choosing a safe vehicle for your teen:

  • Teen driver controls: Driver controls and parent notification tools can allow you to set a maximum speed, view the odometer remotely or track the vehicle’s location.
  • Safety aids: Some of the best technology for reducing accidents includes emergency braking, stability control, pedestrian detection, lane keep assist and blind-spot monitoring.
  • Telematics:Onstar and other telematic systems can provide your teen with 24/7 roadside assistance and emergency assistance, along with location tracking.
  • Smartphone integration: This feature allows drivers to connect a smartphone so they can integrate map applications and respond to calls and texts by voice, all of which reduce the likelihood of looking down at their phones.

Car size

Common knowledge used to hold that a teenager was best off driving a clunker, but the truth is that teens should avoid driving larger vehicles.

A car that seats seven or more passengers can be difficult for an inexperienced driver to handle and is more likely to roll over. Extra seating can also mean piling the car up with more young passengers who are likely to distract the driver, which is one of the leading causes of crashes and injuries for teens.

Subcompact vehicles should also be avoided, since they tend to have smaller crumple zones and are less likely to protect drivers and passengers in a crash. Vehicles in the mini or micromini categories are a popular choice for teen drivers, but they’re more likely to result in fatalities in the event of an accident.

Instead, parents shopping for a car should opt for a mid-size vehicle like a Subaru Outback, a Honda Accord or a Toyota Prius, all of which are ranked amongst the best safety choices for used cars for teens by the IIHS.

Leasing vs. buying

Leasing can mean getting a car without a down payment or a loan and having lower monthly payments, so it may be the most affordable way to get your teen into a car with up-to-date safety features. But you’ll likely end up paying more down the line.

When a leased vehicle is returned, it has to be in like-new condition. That means any damages beyond normal wear and tear will have to be fixed, which can make leasing a more expensive option than buying. Plus, the cash you shell out won’t get you or your teen any closer to owning a car.

New vs. used

For a teenager, the choice between driving a new or used car may feel like a question of social status. While buying new can mean more flash, better features and even parental control technology, you may not want the inevitable dents and scratches that come along with inexperienced driving.

But new cars are generally more reliable, and you’ll want the best safety features you can buy for your young driver. If new isn’t in your budget, you can still find essential safety features in a model that’s a few years old. As a rule of thumb, look for the safest and most reliable car that fits in your budget.

Financing and insurance

Drivers under the age of 18 can’t legally finance a car. For drivers just over 18, having a thin or nonexistent credit file can be an obstacle, too, since these older teens may have difficulty being approved for a loan or may only qualify for subprime.

Instead, discuss these alternatives with your teen if they need cash to buy a car:

Find a cosigner. Increase your teen’s chance of approval for a loan by cosigning or asking another trusted person to cosign. Make sure all parties understand that cosigning is a serious commitment that involves taking legal responsibility for the loan if the other signer fails to pay.

Borrow from a family member. Your teen could consider borrowing money from a family member or someone else you know. Suggest that they make it official with a written agreement that states when and how they’ll pay the loan back.

Give it time. Teens need time to start building up their credit. One way to speed up the process is to add them as an authorized user to your credit card account, as long as it’s in good standing. Saving up more money for a down payment can also make it easier to qualify for a loan or even buy a car with cash.

If you plan to add a teen driver to your insurance, be prepared for a bigger bill. Adding coverage for a teenager can mean an increase of roughly 130% on your monthly premiums.

You may be able to reduce the cost by enrolling your teen in a driver safety course, by checking to see if your child qualifies for a good student discount or by purchasing a car with telematics.

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