How to Buy a Car for a Teen Driver

Affordable, safe cars are within the reach of every budget with just a little research

The life of a parent is filled with milestones—and one of the most significant is handing over the car keys to your teen for the first time. Not only is it a huge step towards the independence and freedom of adulthood: it’s also a time fraught with natural fears for their safety as a new, inexperienced teen driver on the road.

Although car crashes are the leading cause of death for Americans aged 16—19, parents can help their teen driver to stay safe when researching a suitable first vehicle.

Choosing the right model of car for your teen is vital: new cars offer a range of safety and security features—but with their often eye watering price tags, some 83% of families will be putting down the IIHS’ 2016 Top Safety Pick guide and opting to check out the deals on local used cars instead.

While most teens will be seeking a glamorous car to show off in, studies indicate that big, heavy cars with low to average horsepower are a safe option. While a “beater” or even a midsize SUV might lack the chic of a Mini or the panache of a sports car, their build, weight and design offer extra protection from the front and side—without the temptation to hit the gas hard.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) offers a 5-Star Safety Rating Directory which covers all models from 1990—present for tough, unbiased checks that ensure the models you’re looking at are safe for teen drivers.

Additional safety features, such as Electronic Stability Control (ESC) also score highly, offering extra control on slippery roads, doubling down on the safety of a seat belt by 35%, according to NHTSA.

With so many models of cars available and a bewildering amount of information to sort through, parents wanting to make a great choice should check out IIHS’s list of affordable vehicles ($3,000--$20,000). Although the 2016 pick may be out of budget, the list rolls back to 2006, offering in-depth information on a wide range of teen-safe models.

Whatever your budget and whichever model you select, remember that teen driver’s ed is another vital ingredient in helping your child to be safe on the road. With just a little research, due diligence and guidance, you can hand over the car keys with confidence and pride!