Finding the right first car for your teen can be challenging. The best first car for teenagers should be affordable and easy to handle, but safety is also a top priority. You may also be looking for a car with efficient fuel economy to save money on gas. Bankrate’s insurance editorial team put together a list of top vehicles for teens with a focus on safety, reliability and value for young drivers.

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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 data, 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

Best for resale value

Average price: $18,000 to $22,000

Fuel economy: 29-36 mpg

The Honda Civic has been one of the best-selling small cars in the U.S for years, with a winning combination of price, features, safety, reliability and resale value. The sedan was an IIHS Top Safety Pick every year from 2020-2023. The Civic also has fantastic fuel economy, plus multiple trim levels available and high availability in the used market.

Perks Drawbacks
Low average prices Small size means limited interior space
Strong resale value Doesn’t have an all-wheel-drive option
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Coverage.com, LLC is a licensed insurance producer (NPN: 19966249). Coverage.com services are only available in states where it is licensed. Coverage.com may not offer insurance coverage in all states or scenarios. All insurance products are governed by the terms in the applicable insurance policy, and all related decisions (such as approval for coverage, premiums, commissions and fees) and policy obligations are the sole responsibility of the underwriting insurer. The information on this site does not modify any insurance policy terms in any way.

2. Toyota Camry

Best for reliability

Average price: $10,000 to $22,000

Fuel economy: 25-32 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 or even less for older models. The 2014 standard gasoline model gets an estimated 28 combined city/highway mpg. IIHS included the Camry as a Top Safety Pick from 2012-2022, and the NHTSA gave the same models five-star overall safety ratings.

Perks Drawbacks
Hybrid option available in newer models Smaller-than-average trunk
Ranks highly in safety tests Manual transmission not available on all model options

3. Nissan Altima

Best for safety

Average price: $8,000 to $34,250

Fuel economy: 25-32 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 may be available for under $10,000.

Perks Drawbacks
Includes advanced features in the base models No hybrid version available
High safety test scores Limited headroom in the back seat

4. Mazda 3

Best for tight budgets

Average price: $8,000 to $27,315

Fuel economy: 23-33 mpg

The base model Mazda 3 starts at around $8,000 for a 2012 model year, making it one of the cheapest cars 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 before 2014; models after 2014 received five stars.

Perks Drawbacks
Low average prices Small back seat
All-wheel-drive available Acceleration can be noisy

5. Subaru Outback

Best for additional room

Average price: $9,000 to $28,000

Fuel economy: 20-28 mpg

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 larger model, 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

Teen drivers tend to pay more for car insurance than any other age group. Teens have less experience behind the wheel than older drivers and are more likely to engage in risky behavior, including speeding and distracted driving. Because of the higher likelihood of claims, insurers often charge higher rates for teens to compensate. However, teens may be able to find lower rates with some key strategies.

First, carefully think about the car you wish to purchase for your teen. In many cases, domestic-made cars with high safety ratings are cheaper to insure. Standard vehicles also usually cost less to insure than luxury models or sports cars. Shopping around to compare quotes will help you find the cheapest carrier for your young driver, and don’t forget to pay attention to car insurance discounts. Some insurers offer discounts tailored to teens, such as good student discounts or telematics programs.

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

    • Teenagers have less experience on the road, which can translate to higher crash rates. The Centers for Disease Control reports that teen drivers have a higher incidence of crashes than any other age group. Because car insurance companies know teens are more likely to get into accidents, they generally charge higher rates to compensate for the increased risk of paying a claim.
    • There are several organizations, including the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and the National Traffic Safety Administration, that issue safety ratings for all common makes and models of cars. Ratings are posted on the websites for each of these organizations with details on where models excelled or fell short in testing. Test driving vehicles is a great way to understand whether your teen would feel comfortable and safe in a specific model. During a test drive, have your teen pay attention to how the vehicle handles as well as how they feel about the vehicle’s visibility, features and ease of use.
    • Most states have teenage driving restrictions. Each state sets its 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. According to the CDC, nearly one-third of the fatal accidents involving teens from 2009-2014 happened between 9:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m. In 23 states and the District of Columbia, driving restrictions begin at midnight or later; other states have earlier restricted times.
    • 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 21. Florida, Mississippi and North Dakota are the only states without restrictions.

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.