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The best used cars for teen drivers

Father teaching son driving a car
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Father teaching son driving a car
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Finding a vehicle for your teen driver can feel challenging. You want something affordable, but of course, safety is a top priority too. And what about fuel economy? If your teen is driving to and from school, a part-time job and friends’ houses, you probably don’t want a gas guzzler, especially with gas prices remaining relatively high. If you’re looking for the best cars for teen drivers, Bankrate can help. Our insurance editorial team conducted extensive research and found five used car models stand out as the best.

The best cars for teenage drivers

To find the best cars for teen drivers, we started with safety. To make sure we chose safe vehicles, we turned to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), which conduct extensive research into vehicle safety. Each of our vehicles is an IIHS Top Safety Pick. Next, we looked at the price. Inflation has hit the car market hard, and although prices are falling, they’re still higher than they were a year ago. While we used to suggest vehicles below $10,000, we’ve increased our starting price limit to $25,000 to accommodate the high cost of used vehicles in today’s economy. Pricing information is from Kelley Blue Book, but keep in mind that prices for used cars are changing rapidly with inflation. We also reviewed each vehicle’s fuel economy to account for fluctuating gas prices. Our research shows these are the top five best cars for teen drivers:

1. Honda Civic (2012–2016)

Best for resale value

Average price: $19,000 to $22,000

Fuel economy: 31 to 35 mpg

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 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. The Civic also has fantastic fuel economy, with an EPA estimated average of 31 combined city/highway mpg. It also has the second-lowest average price of the cars on our list and tends to hold its value well for resale.

Perks Drawbacks
Low average prices Small size means limited interior space
Strong resale value Acceleration may feel slow
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2. Toyota Camry (2012–2014)

Best for reliability

Average price: $22,000 to $30,600

Fuel economy: 24 to 28 mpg

The Toyota Camry often ranks near the top of the list as one of the best cars for teenagers and among the best-selling cars nationwide. Camry owners tend to hold onto these vehicles for a long time, indicating that the vehicles remain reliable. While higher-end models may cost over $25,000, it is possible to find a no-frills version for under $25,000. The 2012 standard gasoline model gets an estimated 28 combined city/highway mpg. IIHS included the 2012–2014 Camrys on its Top Safety Pick list, and the NHTSA gave the same models five-star overall safety ratings.

Perks Drawbacks
Tend to be reliable for long periods of time Some drivers report “loose” handling
Ranks highly in safety tests No manual transmission option

3. Nissan Altima (2014 and newer)

Best for safety

Average price: $23,000 to $34,250

Fuel economy: 25 to 32 mpg

Every model of the Nissan Altima since 2014 has earned an NHTSA five-star safety rating and is an IIHS Top Safety Pick. 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 vehicle tends to get between 28 and 32 mpg, depending on the model and specific features. Newer models will cost more, although older models are available for under $25,000.

Perks Drawbacks
Includes advanced features in the base models More expensive than other vehicles on our list
High safety test scores Limited headroom in the back seat

4. Mazda 3 (2012–2016)

Best for tight budgets

Average price: $16,000 to $27,315

Fuel economy: 23 to 33 mpg

The base model Mazda 3 starts at around $16,000 for a 2012 model year, making it the cheapest car on our list. At an average of 23 to 33 combined city/highway mpg, the Mazda 3 also has a high fuel efficiency score. Like the other vehicles, the Mazda 3 is an IIHS Top Safety Pick but only received four out of five stars from the NHTSA.

Perks Drawbacks
Low average prices Small back seat
High safety test ratings Acceleration can be noisy

5. Subaru Outback (2013–2016)

Best for additional room

Average price: $24,000 to $40,000

Fuel economy: 20 to 28 mpg

Although it has the highest starting price on our list, the Subaru Outback could be a good choice if you want your teen to have a little more room or need the towing capacity. Despite being a bigger size, the Outback gets good mileage, with an average of 20 to 28 combined city/highway mph, depending on the year and trim package. The Outback is consistently an IIHS Top Safety Pick and has a five-star rating from the NHTSA. However, the Outback has had more recalls than the other vehicles on our list.

Perks Drawbacks
Roomier interior than the other vehicles listed Several model years have had multiple recalls
3,000 pound towing capacity The larger size (compared to the others on our list) could mean less maneuverability
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Car insurance for teens

Car insurance rates for young drivers tend to be higher than other age groups. This is because teen drivers have less experience on the road, which means a greater likelihood of accidents and tickets. While you are likely to pay a higher premium for a teen driver than an older driver, there are ways to get lower rates.

First, consider the car you buy for your teen. Some cars are cheaper to insure than others. Spending time researching and requesting insurance quotes for various vehicles may help you find a vehicle that is safe, reliable, within your budget and cheap to insure. You can also review car insurance discounts, as many companies offer savings specifically for teen drivers to help offset the high premiums. You may be able to add a good student discount or a driver training discount to your policy, for example.

Driver age Average annual full coverage premium
16-year-old $3,836
17-year-old $3,580
18-year-old $3,352
19-year-old $2,929

*Rates reflect the total cost for teens insured on their parent’s policy with one vehicle.

Frequently asked questions

Methodology

Bankrate utilizes Quadrant Information Services to analyze 2022 rates for all ZIP codes and carriers in all 50 states and Washington, D.C. Rates are weighted based on the population density in each geographic region. Quoted rates are based on a 40-year-old male, and female driver with a clean driving record and good credit with a 16-19-year-old teen driver added to the policy. The following full coverage limits were used:

  • $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

Our base profile drivers own a 2020 Toyota Camry, commute five days a week and drive 12,000 miles annually.

These are sample rates and should only be used for comparative purposes.

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
Managing Editor