The 7 best used cars for teen drivers

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For most teens, getting a driver’s license is a huge accomplishment. The feeling of pride, the thrill of freedom and the excitement of getting a car are unparalleled by other teenage rites of passage. For parents, though, having a teen driver may not be nearly so exciting. Along with the worry of having a teen on the road, parents also have to deal with the new financial burden of buying and insuring a car for their teen driver.

The average cost of car insurance is $1,674 for full coverage, but for teen drivers the cost may be double or triple. For instance, the cost of adding a 16-year-old to a parent’s insurance policy is an average of $2,531, an increase of more than 150%. The price is not surprising given the risk a teen driver presents to insurers. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), the risk of traffic fatalities is highest among teen drivers, and in 2019 alone, 2,375 drivers under 19 died in road accidents.

Although cars are always a big purchase, there are a variety of vehicle options on the market that can be obtained at relatively low prices ($10,000 or less), which include safety features, fuel efficiency and the durability to last for years to come. Bankrate’s editorial team has researched the best cars for teen drivers and determined that seven models stand out from the crowd.

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The best cars for teenagers

1. Honda Civic (2012-2016)

The Honda Civic has been one of the best-selling small cars in the United States for years, with a winning combination of price, features, safety, reliability and resale value. It is no surprise, then, that it is also one of the best used cars for teens.

The sedan was an IIHS Top Safety Pick every year from 2009 to 2017, and nearly every configuration of the car made since the start of the model’s ninth generation in 2012 has gotten a 5-star overall safety rating from the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (NHTSA).

The Civic also has fantastic fuel economy, with EPA estimated averages around 31 MPG. While finding one under $10,000 is not difficult, used 2012 model Civics tend to have anywhere from 50,000 to 100,000+ miles on them, typically past their three-year, 36,000-mile factory warranty. Newer model, lower-mileage Civics with fewer miles typically cost more than $10,000.

2. Toyota Camry (2012-2014)

The Toyota Camry often ranks near the top of the list for one of the best cars for teenagers and one of the best-selling cars in the nation in general. Unfortunately, Camry owners tend to hold onto them for the long haul, meaning a Camry under $10,000 without excessive miles is hard to come by.

The 2011 model gets an estimated EPA 22 MPG in the city and 32 MPG on the highway. IIHS included the 2012-2014 Camrys on its Top Safety Pick list and the NHTSA gave the same models five-star overall safety ratings. The 2011 Camry features a six-speed standard or automatic transmission, along with a three-year, 36,000-mile warranty. Highly rated in crash safety tests, and with great longevity, reliability and fuel economy, the Toyota Camry is a great first car if you can find a used one for sale.

3. Hyundai Sonata (2011 or newer)

The 2011 Hyundai Sonata has a five-year, 60,000-mile warranty and gets an estimated 34 MPG on the highway. The Sonata also comes in a hybrid version with even greater fuel efficiency. Since 2011, all gas-powered Sonatas have earned a five-star NHTSA safety rating and have earned the IIHS Top Safety Pick distinction every year except 2014, making these good first cars for teen drivers.

Used 2011 Sonatas in this price range usually have more than 60,000 miles, while 2016 models have just shy of the warranty mileage limit. Base models come with standard safety features, including front and side curtain airbags and stability control.

4. Nissan Altima (2014 and newer)

Every model of the Nissan Altima since 2014 has earned a NHTSA five-star safety rating. Even in the base models, Bluetooth connectivity and Intelligent Key remote engine start are standard features, while models from 2016 and beyond also feature a rearview camera.

The four-cylinder engine with continuously variable transmission can log EPA estimated fuel economy 38 MPG on the highway, peaking at 39 MPG on the 2016 model. In this price range, expect to find 2014 models with around 60,000 to 80,000 miles – leaving plenty of life to take this ideal car for teens well into their college years.

5. Volkswagen Jetta (2016-2017)

The Volkswagen Jetta is the smallest sedan that Volkswagen offers, making it a great option for teens who may be intimidated by larger vehicles. The 2016 and 2017 models were IIHS Top Safety Picks, and both years come with vehicle-to-vehicle front crash prevention as an optional safety feature. For teen drivers who are still learning, finding a used Jetta with front crash prevention could ease the worry on parents’ minds.

Parents will not have to give their teens much gas money either, as the 2016 and 2017 Volkswagen Jettas get between 27 and 33 combined city/highway MPG, depending on the specific trim package. The 2016 Jetta hybrid model gets an incredible 44 combined city/highway MPG. Most used Jettas sell for below $10,000, although the more features the car has, the more expensive it is.

6. Ford Focus (2015-2017)

The 2015 Ford Focus gets an EPA combined estimated 31 MPG and earned the IIHS’s Top Safety Pick distinction. From 2012 to 2018 (Ford discontinued the model in 2019), every style of Ford Focus has earned a five-star overall safety rating from the NHTSA, including sedans and hatchbacks. You can find several Focus models in the $10,000 price range.

The 2015 Focus was the first model to offer a standard back-up camera, with blind-spot detection and lane departure warnings. Ford also offers MyKey, a program that enables parents to program a key that will set limits on the car’s speed and radio volume, as well as seatbelt alerts. While young drivers might not be as enthusiastic about the safety elements, these features secure the Ford Focus as one of the best used cars for teen drivers in the minds of many parents.

7. Ford Escape (2018-2019)

If you would feel more comfortable with your teen driving a more substantial vehicle, the Ford Escape is a great option. Although this car is at the top of our $10,000 budget, it offers features that may make up for the slightly higher price tag.

Although it was not an IIHS Top Safety Pick, the 2018 and 2019 Escape models did score well in crashworthiness for side impacts and roof strength. Additionally, both years have 5-star safety ratings from the NHTSA. Both models also offer options for forward collision warning and lane departure warning. Finding a used Ford Escape with either or both features could help parents feel more at ease with their teen drivers.

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Car insurance for teens

Adding a teen driver to your auto insurance policy can make the premium rise steeply. Since young drivers are considered higher risk by insurance companies, the cost of premiums will typically be expensive for them as long as they are under 25 years of age. However, the price should not deter you from getting adequate protection for your teen driver.

Aside from the minimum required coverage for liability and property damage, you could also consider adding optional collision and comprehensive coverage for the new driver, since they lack experience behind the wheel and the likelihood of a costly claim is much greater. Regardless of the car or the coverage you choose, getting quotes from multiple insurers could help you find the most affordable price.

Frequently asked questions

Why is car insurance for a teenager so expensive?

Statistically, teen drivers cause more accidents than adults do. In 2019, more than 2,400 teenagers died in road accidents and another 258,000 sustained injuries, at a cost of nearly $13 billion, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, at a cost of $13.1 billion. Insurance companies base rates on the financial risk incurred by insuring a driver. Typically, car insurance rates for young people with good driving records start to decrease by the time they reach their late teens or early 20s.

How do I know if a car is safe for my teenager?

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration produce safety ratings on the most popular vehicles. Both organizations maintain a database of auto ratings on their websites, which include older model vehicles, so you can look for the safest and best cars for teenagers.

Are teenagers restricted from driving at night?

Most states have teenage driving restrictions. Each state sets its own nighttime driving restrictions. For example, Nevada restricts teen driving between the hours of 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. Vermont is the only state that does not impose nighttime driving restrictions on teens.

Do states restrict the number of teen passengers in a vehicle driven by a teenager?

Most states restrict the number of teenage passengers in a car driven by another teenager. For example, a teen driver in Texas cannot have more than one passenger under the age of 21. Florida, Iowa, Mississippi and North Dakota are the only states with no restrictions. For more details about teenage driving restrictions by state, check out this table from the IIHS.

Methodology

Bankrate utilizes Quadrant Information Services to analyze rates for all ZIP codes and carriers in all 50 states and Washington, D.C. Quoted rates are based on the additional cost of a 16-year-old male and female teen driver added to their 40-year-old parents’ policy (with clean driving records, good credit and the following full coverage limits):

  • $100,000 bodily injury liability per person
  • $300,000 bodily injury liability per accident
  • $50,000 property damage liability per accident
  • $100,000 uninsured motorist bodily injury per person
  • $300,000 uninsured motorist bodily injury per accident
  • $500 collision deductible
  • $500 comprehensive deductible

To determine minimum coverage limits, Bankrate used minimum coverages that meet each state’s requirements. Our sample drivers own a 2019 Toyota Camry, commute five days a week and drive 12,000 miles annually.

These are sample rates and should be used for comparative purposes only. Your quotes may be different.

Rates are determined based on 2021 Quadrant Information Services data.

Written by
Cate Deventer
Insurance Writer & Editor
Cate Deventer is a writer, editor and insurance professional with over a decade of experience in the insurance industry as a licensed insurance agent.
Edited by
Insurance Editor
Reviewed by
Director of corporate communications, Insurance Information Institute