Rateworks auto loan refinance
September 18, 2023

What Are the Best Cars for Teenagers

Discover top-rated cars for teenagers. Explore safe, budget-friendly options for your teen driver. Make an informed choice today!

Two teenagers driving in the car
Written by

Matthew Oliver

With a staggering 243.4 million licensed drivers in the U.S., the road can sometimes seem like an intimidating place, especially new parents whose children have just received their learner's permit or driver's license. It's natural to want your child behind the wheel of the safest car possible. But what are the best cars for teenagers? 

In this article, the team at RateWorks will provide valuable insights and recommendations to help parents, guardians, caregivers, and young adults make informed decisions about choosing the right vehicle for their teenage drivers. With safety, affordability, and practicality at the forefront, let’s hit the road and start exploring.

Tips for parents: Finding the best cars for teenagers

The harsh reality is that the risk of motor vehicle crashes is significantly higher among teenagers aged 16–19 than any other age group. Teen drivers in this category face a fatal crash rate almost three times as high as drivers aged 20 and older per mile driven. This risk is especially pronounced during the first months of licensure, with 16-year-old drivers having a crash rate per mile driven approximately 1.5 times as high as that of 18–19-year-old drivers.

Several factors contribute to accidents among teens, making it crucial for parents to prioritize safety when choosing a car for their young drivers:

  • Inexperience: Teenagers are new to driving and lack the experience needed to handle complex road situations.
  • Nighttime and weekend driving: Many accidents involving teens occur during nighttime and weekends when they might be less cautious.
  • Not using seatbelts: Failure to wear seatbelts increases the risk of injury in a crash.
  • Distracted driving: Teens are prone to distractions from smartphones and other passengers.
  • Speeding: Inexperienced drivers may underestimate the dangers of excessive speed.
  • Alcohol and drug use: Substance use significantly impairs judgment and reaction times.

Given these risks, it's vital for parents to not only emphasize safe driving habits with their teens but also ensure they drive the safest and most suitable vehicles. 

Teenager in a car best suited for her

Safety first: Top priority for teen cars

When it comes to cars for teenagers, safety should be the utmost priority. Equipping your young driver with a vehicle that boasts essential safety features can provide peace of mind for parents and caregivers. Here are some key safety features you should consider:

Look for these features in your teen’s car.

  • Airbags: Multiple airbags, including front and side airbags, can provide crucial protection in the event of a collision.
  • Antilock brakes: These brakes prevent wheel lockup during hard braking, aiding in maintaining control.
  • Traction control: Helps prevent wheelspin, especially in slippery conditions.
  • Stability control: Enhances vehicle stability by adjusting engine power and brake force.
  • Rearview camera: Assists in parking and offers improved visibility when reversing.

If your budget allows, these additional features are great top have in the best cars for teenagers.

  • Forward collision warning: Alerts the driver if a collision is imminent, allowing for quick reaction.
  • Blind-spot monitoring: Warns of vehicles in blind spots, reducing the risk of lane-change accidents.
  • Rear cross-traffic alert: Alerts the driver to approaching vehicles when backing out of parking spaces.
  • Lane-departure warning: Provides a warning if the vehicle drifts out of its lane unintentionally.
  • Lane-keeping assist: Helps steer the vehicle back into its lane if it starts to drift.

These safety features can significantly reduce the risk of accidents and provide an added layer of protection for your teenage driver. 

Budget-friendly options

Finding a budget-friendly car that combines safety and affordability is a top concern for parents and caregivers of teenage drivers. Here's a list of five reliable cars for first-time drivers that offer both safety and budget-conscious features:

  1. Honda Fit: Known for its reliability and fuel efficiency, the Honda Fit is an excellent choice for budget-conscious families. It also boasts good crash test ratings.
  2. Toyota Corolla: The Corolla has a long-standing reputation for reliability and affordability. Its advanced safety features, like Toyota Safety Sense, make it an attractive option.
  3. Hyundai Elantra: The Elantra offers a lot of value for the price, with modern safety features and a comfortable interior.
  4. Nissan Sentra: The Sentra is an economical choice with a well-rounded set of safety features.
  5. Ford Focus: Compact and affordable, the Ford Focus offers decent safety ratings and competitive pricing.

Factors that contribute to these being economical vehicles for teenage drivers include:

  • Fuel efficiency: Many of these models are known for their excellent gas mileage, which can save money over time.
  • Reliability: These brands are recognized for their long-term dependability, reducing the cost of repairs and maintenance.
  • Insurance rates: They often have lower insurance premiums, making them more budget-friendly for young drivers.
  • Resale value: Strong resale value of teen cars can help offset initial costs when it's time to upgrade.

By considering these factors, parents and caregivers can find budget-friendly cars that prioritize safety without breaking the bank.

Fuel efficiency for cost savings

Fuel efficiency is like your car and its engine working in harmony to deliver the best possible miles per gallon (mpg) of fuel. For parents and caregivers budgeting for their teenage driver, understanding the role of fuel efficiency is crucial in the long-term cost savings of owning a vehicle.

Several factors influence a car's fuel efficiency. Engine configuration, including the number of cylinders and engine size, plays a significant role. Diesel engines, thanks to their higher compression ratio and energy-dense fuel, tend to be more fuel-efficient than gasoline engines.

The drivetrain also matters. Four-wheel-drive vehicles are less efficient than their 2-wheel-drive counterparts because they use more fuel to power additional wheels. Among 2WD options, front-wheel drive in a front-engine car is typically more efficient than rear-wheel drive.

Other factors, such as vehicle weight, passenger and luggage weight, aerodynamic drag, and efficiency when rolling, impact fuel efficiency. Proper vehicle maintenance is equally important since a poorly maintained car can be less efficient and consume more fuel.

Considering that the average gas price in the U.S. is $3.81 per gallon, fuel-efficient cars for teens is a must. .

Here is what you can expect for fuel efficiency for the cars we listed above.

  • Honda Fit: These cars can achieve an impressive 36 mpg on average, with city mileage reaching up to 33 mpg and highway mileage at an impressive 40 mpg. 
  • Toyota Corolla: The Toyota Corolla boasts a solid combined fuel efficiency of 33 mpg, offering approximately 30 mpg in urban settings and an impressive 38 mpg on the open highway.
  • Hyundai Elantra: The Hyundai Elantra excels in fuel efficiency, averaging 37 mpg combined. It delivers an estimated 33 mpg in city driving and an impressive 43 mpg on the highway.
  • Nissan Sentra: The Nissan Sentra offers a balanced fuel efficiency, averaging 33 mpg combined. It achieves approximately 29 mpg in city driving and a commendable 39 mpg on the highway.
  • Ford Focus: The Ford Focus 1.0 L, 3 cyl, Automatic (S6), Turbo, Regular Gasoline provides efficient performance, averaging 31 mpg combined, with an estimated 27 mpg in city driving and 33 on the highway.

Choosing a fuel-efficient car not only saves money but also reduces the environmental footprint.

Used cars vs. New cars

When it comes to buying a car for your teenager, the choice between new and used vehicles is a significant decision. Each option has its own set of pros and cons to consider:

New cars pros:

  • Advanced safety features: New cars often come equipped with the latest safety technology, providing added protection for your teen.
  • Warranty coverage: They typically include warranties that cover repairs and maintenance, reducing unexpected costs.
  • Reliability: Newer cars are less likely to have issues, offering peace of mind to parents.

New cars cons:

  • Higher Cost: New cars come with a higher price tag, which may not align with all budgets.
  • Depreciation: They depreciate quickly, losing value in the first few years.

Used cars pros:

  • Lower cost: Used cars are more budget-friendly and can provide good value for money.
  • Stable depreciation: They have already experienced the steepest part of their depreciation curve, meaning they retain their value better.

Used car cons:

  • Potentially fewer safety features: Older models may lack some of the latest safety technology.
  • Uncertain history: It's crucial to research a used car's history thoroughly to avoid hidden issues.

Consider your budget and prioritize safety. If you can afford it, a new car with advanced safety features can be an excellent choice. However, if budget constraints are a concern, a well-maintained used car with a good safety record can be a sensible and cost-effective option.

Car insurance for teen drivers

Securing car insurance for teenage drivers can be a financial concern for parents and caregivers. On average, teens can expect to pay between $225 to $300 per month when added to a parent's policy, and up to $450 per month for a solo policy.

Industry estimates suggest that families may see their auto insurance costs increase by approximately 150% after adding a teen driver to the policy. For example, if your current annual policy costs $1,000, you might end up paying around $2,500 per year with a teen driver included. Factors like your driving history, credit score, and location play a role in determining the exact rate increase.

Here are some tips for managing car insurance for teen drivers:

  • Start early: Begin the insurance process before your teen gets a learner's permit. Contact your insurer to understand the cost of adding your teen once they are licensed.
  • Learner's permit coverage: Typically, your policy will automatically cover your teen while driving with a learner's permit, but confirm this with your insurance company.
  • Add to policy: Once your teen is licensed, contact your insurance company to add them to your policy.
  • Primary driver: Assign your teen as the primary driver for the least expensive car listed on your policy to save money.

While cost-effective insurance is essential, we recommend getting a full coverage policy for teenage drivers, including:

  • $100,000 in liability for injuries to others; up to $300,000 per accident.
  • $100,000 for damage to other vehicles and property.
  • Comprehensive coverage for damage from various sources.
  • Collision coverage to pay for damage to the vehicle you own.

These steps and coverage choices help ensure your teen is adequately protected on the road while keeping insurance costs manageable.

Cartoon of a teenager driving while on the phone

Maintenance and ownership costs

Teen car ownership costs involve more than just the purchase price. Ongoing maintenance and ownership costs are important considerations. To manage these expenses effectively, follow these tips:

  • Regular maintenance: Stick to a maintenance schedule to prevent costly breakdowns. This includes oil changes, tire rotations, and brake inspections. Keep track of these expenses with a monthly expenses calculator to budget accordingly.
  • DIY where possible: Learn basic car maintenance tasks like changing air filters or checking fluid levels. This can save you money on routine service visits.
  • Affordable maintenance: Seek out affordable maintenance for teenage cars, such as local mechanic shops or service centers. Compare prices and ask for recommendations to find the best deals.
  • Shop for parts: When replacements are needed, shop around for parts. Online retailers often offer competitive prices, and buying used parts can be cost-effective.
  • Safe driving: Encourage safe driving habits to reduce the risk of accidents and costly repairs.

Resale value and longevity

When choosing a car for your teen, considering resale value is crucial. On average, a new vehicle will retain about 45% of its original sticker price after 60 months. This highlights the importance of selecting a car that not only serves your teenager well but also retains its value over time.

The cars we recommended earlier also offer impressive longevity. For instance, with regular maintenance, a Toyota Corolla can last up to 10 years or more, reaching 300,000 miles. The Nissan Sentra can endure between 250,000 and 300,000 miles, translating to 16 to 20 years of service. 

A Hyundai Elantra can easily go for at least 150,000 miles, with some reports of it lasting up to 250,000 miles. A Honda Fit should last 13 to 20 years with proper maintenance, and Ford claims that a Focus can reach up to 250,000 miles

Connectivity and technology

Technology and connectivity features are instrumental in modern teen cars, addressing both convenience and safety concerns. That said, it’s crucial to first emphasize the dangers of using phones while driving, as manual dialing, texting, or browsing the web doubles a teen's crash risk. Encouraging teens to turn off their phones while driving is essential for their safety.

Fortunately, technology also offers solutions. Many cars now come equipped with tech options that enhance safety and convenience. Features like blind-spot assistance, automatic parking, electronic stability control, and connected car systems, like Volkswagen's Car-Net, are becoming standard. These systems can send apps from your smartphone to your car's dashboard, providing parents with useful tools for monitoring their teen's driving habits and ensuring safety.

Additionally, apps like License+ for iOS and Android and AT&T's Drive Mode app help tutor teen drivers and prevent distractions, while EverDrive monitors driving behavior, offering rewards for safe driving.

Final checklist for parents

Choosing the right car model for your teen is a significant decision that involves several important factors. Here's a handy checklist to help you make an informed choice:

  • Set Your Budget: Determine your budget for the car, considering not only the purchase price but also ongoing expenses like insurance, maintenance, and fuel.
  • Do Your Homework: Research different car models, their safety records, and reliability ratings. Consider the specific needs of your teenager and your family.
  • Decide on the Type of Vehicle: Consider whether compact cars for teen drivers or sedans vs. SUVs for teen drivers best meet your needs and your family's preferences.
  • New vs. Used: Decide whether to buy new or used. Many parents opt for used cars, with recommendations typically ranging from $5,000 to $20,000.
  • Safety Features: Ensure the chosen car has essential safety features, such as airbags, antilock brakes, and stability control. Advanced safety tech is a plus.
  • Test Drives: Take the car for a test drive to assess comfort, visibility, and handling. Make sure it meets your teenager's needs and preferences.
  • Negotiate the Price: Don't hesitate to negotiate with the seller or dealership to get the best deal possible.

Choosing the best cars for teenagers

Selecting the best cars for teenagers goes beyond style; it's about securing safe and affordable cars for teens equipped with essential teen-friendly car features. Prioritize safety, consider budget, and explore tech advancements for a well-rounded choice. Remember, safety on the road is first and foremost.

For those seeking financial flexibility, consider refinancing your current car loan through RateWorks to provide your teen with a safe, reliable car that has been well-maintained. Make an informed decision, and drive with confidence knowing you've chosen the right vehicle for your teen's journey into the world of driving. Get started today by getting a free quote.