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Cars For Teens - Updated IIHS Recommendations +VIDEO


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IIHS tightens criteria for recommended used vehicles for teens

ARLINGTON, Va. — The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety is applying more stringent criteria to its list of recommended used vehicles for teens, as recent safety improvements have percolated down to lower-cost used cars, SUVs, minivans and pickups.

Teenagers are among the riskiest drivers, but they often end up with inexpensive vehicles that don't offer adequate protection in a crash. To help families find safer vehicles that fit within their budgets, IIHS began publishing a list of recommended used vehicles for teens in 2014.

The latest update can be found below, includes 49 "best choices," starting under $20,000, and 82 "good choices," starting under $10,000.

For the first time this year, small overlap front crash protection has been factored in for the best choices section of the list. And the bar has been raised for the less expensive good choices as well, with better side and head restraint ratings required.

"Just as we are always updating the criteria for our awards for new vehicles, Top Safety Pick and Top Safety Pick+, we can now point used vehicle buyers toward even safer models than before," says David Zuby, IIHS executive vice president and chief research officer. "Good crash protection is more affordable than ever, so there's no need to skimp on safety when it comes to a vehicle for a young driver."

Prices for listed vehicles are provided by Kelley Blue Book, based on estimates for a private-party purchase near the Institute's Arlington, Va., headquarters.

"Choosing a safe vehicle for your teen is of paramount importance, and settling on a vehicle your family can afford is also very important," says Jack Nerad, executive editorial director and executive market analyst for Kelley Blue Book. "Kelley Blue Book provides you with updated vehicle prices and values that are unique to your area, so KBB.com is a great site to visit as you finalize your buying decision."

Both lists follow a few basic principles, which should always be taken into account when shopping for a vehicle for a teenager:

  • High horsepower and young drivers don't mix. Teens may be tempted to test the limits of a powerful engine. Vehicles that come only with powerful engines have been left off the lists, but some recommended models have high-horsepower versions. Stick with the base engine.
  • Bigger, heavier vehicles are safer. There are no minicars or small cars on the lists. Small SUVs are OK; they weigh about the same as a midsize car.
  • Electronic stability control is an essential feature. This technology, which cuts single-vehicle fatal crash risk nearly in half, has been required on new vehicles since the 2012 model year. It helps a driver maintain control on curves and slippery roads. All listed vehicles have the feature standard.

Beyond those basics, parents should seek out a vehicle with the highest crash test ratings they can afford.

Models on this year's good choices list earn good ratings in the Institute's moderate overlap front, side and head restraint tests. Vehicles on the best choices list must also have a good rating for roof strength to protect in rollover crashes and a good or acceptable rating in the small overlap test, which replicates what happens when the front, driver-side corner of a vehicle strikes another vehicle or an object such as a tree or utility pole.

If rated by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), vehicles on either list must earn 4 or 5 stars overall or 4 or 5 stars in the front and side tests under NHTSA's old rating scheme, which was used through the 2010 model year.

Before purchasing a used vehicle, it's critical to check for outstanding recalls. You can enter the Vehicle Identification Number at nhtsa.gov/recalls. It's also a good idea to notify the manufacturer once you purchase the vehicle, so the company can make sure you receive future recall notices.

Consumers should keep in mind that the ongoing recall of Takata airbags affects a large number of vehicles. Since the risk of airbag malfunction increases over time and also depends on the climate where the vehicle is kept for most of the year, not all affected vehicles have been recalled yet. NHTSA recommends checking its recall page every six months or so.

In recent years, front crash prevention has been part of the criteria for IIHS safety awards for new vehicles. Although such systems are likely to be valuable for inexperienced drivers, they are usually available only as optional equipment, making it difficult to locate a used vehicle that has the feature. The same goes for good- or acceptable-rated headlights. IIHS began headlight ratings last year, but many vehicles have multiple headlight systems with varying ratings.

Parents of children who are still years away from driving should plan ahead if they want their future driver to benefit from front crash prevention and good-rated headlights. If possible, when buying the next family vehicle, choose an IIHS Top Safety Pick or Top Safety Pick+ with at least 4 or 5 stars from NHTSA, and consider handing it down to your teenager when the time comes.

Choosing the best vehicle for your teen

IIHS is known for its ratings of new vehicles, but for many families, a brand new Top Safety Pick or Top Safety Pick+ isn't in the budget for a teen's vehicle. In a national phone survey conducted for IIHS of parents of teen drivers, 83 percent of those who bought a vehicle for their teenagers said they bought it used (see background research).

With that reality in mind, the Institute regularly publishes a list of affordable used vehicles that meet important safety criteria for teen drivers. There are two tiers of recommended vehicles, best choices and good choices. Prices range from about $2,000 to nearly $20,000, so parents can buy the most safety for their money, whatever their budget.

Defining safety

The recommendations are guided by four main principles:

  • Young drivers should stay away from high horsepower. More powerful engines can tempt them to test the limits.
  • Bigger, heavier vehicles are safer. They protect better in a crash, and HLDI analyses of insurance data show that teen drivers are less likely to crash them in the first place. There are no minicars or small cars on the recommended list. Small SUVs are included because their weight is similar to that of a midsize car.
  • Electronic stability control (ESC) is a must. This feature, which helps a driver maintain control of the vehicle on curves and slippery roads, reduces risk on a level comparable to safety belts.
  • Vehicles should have the best safety ratings possible. At a minimum, that means good ratings in the IIHS moderate overlap front, side and head restraint tests and four or five stars from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

Check for recalls

Use the Vehicle Identification Number to check for outstanding recalls before buying a used vehicle. To receive future recall notices, notify the manufacturer of your purchase. NHTSA also advises vehicle owners to check its database for new recalls every six months or so.

For more information, see "Smart picks for new drivers: IIHS updates criteria for recommended used vehicles" (April 2017).


Best choices: recommended used vehicles for teens starting under $20,000

Vehicles on this list earn good ratings in the IIHS moderate overlap front, side, roof strength and head restraint tests and good or acceptable ratings in the small overlap front test. If rated by NHTSA, they earn 4 or 5 stars overall or 4 or 5 stars in the front and side tests under the old rating scheme. All come with standard ESC.

All listed vehicles start under $20,000. Prices, provided by Kelley Blue Book and rounded to the nearest $100, are from March 1, 2017, for the lowest trim level and earliest applicable model year. The estimates are based on the following criteria: vehicle in good condition, typical mileage and private party purchase in Arlington, Va.)

Note: Some listed models include a "built after" date. This applies when a manufacturer makes changes to improve safety in the middle of a model year. Information about when a specific vehicle was manufactured can be found on the certification label typically affixed to the driver door or near it.

Large cars Model years Price
Volvo S80 2007 and newer $4,000
Toyota Avalon 2015 and newer $18,800
Infiniti M37/M56/Q70 2013 and newer $19,800
Midsize cars Model years Price
Dodge Avenger 2011-14
$5,300
Chrysler 200 sedan 2011 and newer $5,900
Kia Optima 2011 and newer $7,600
Volkswagen Passat 2013 and newer; built after October 2012 $8,700
Volkswagen Jetta 2015 and newer $9,200
Nissan Altima sedan 2013 and newer; built after November 2012 $9,500
Ford Fusion 2013 and newer; built after December 2012 $9,600
Volvo S60 2011 and newer; price is for 2012, which had lower trim level available $9,800
Subaru Legacy 2013 and newer; built after August 2012 $10,700
Chevrolet Malibu 2014 and newer $10,900
Honda Accord sedan and coupe 2013 and newer $11,100
Toyota Camry 2014 and newer; built after December 2013 $11,200
Mazda 6 2014 and newer $11,400
Hyundai Sonata 2015 and newer $11,900
Acura TL 2012-14; built after April 2012 $12,400
Lincoln MKZ 2013 and newer $13,300
Subaru Outback 2013 and newer; built after August 2012 $13,600
Chevrolet Malibu Limited 2016 $13,700
Toyota Prius v 2015 and newer $16,300
Volvo V60 2015 and newer $18,400
Audi A3 2015 and newer $18,500
Infiniti Q50 2014-15 $19,100
Small SUVs Model years Price
Mitsubishi Outlander Sport 2011 and newer $6,900
Mitsubishi Outlander 2014 and newer $10,700
Chevrolet Trax 2015 and newer $11,800
Fiat 500X 2016 and newer; built after July 2015 $12,600
Nissan Rogue 2014 and newer $12,900
Buick Encore 2015 and newer $13,800
Subaru Forester 2014 and newer $14,900
Honda CR-V 2015 and newer $15,600
Hyundai Tucson 2016 and newer $16,000
Toyota RAV4 2015 and newer $16,000
Mazda CX-3 2016 and newer $16,600
Midsize SUVs MODEL YEARS Price
Volvo XC90 2005 and newer $2,500
Ford Flex 2010 and newer; built after January 2010 $7,200
Chevrolet Equinox 2014 and newer $12,100
GMC Terrain 2014 and newer $13,300
Nissan Pathfinder 2015 and newer $15,800
Kia Sorento 2016 and newer $16,500
Volvo XC60 2013 and newer $16,500
Ford Edge 2015 and newer; built after May 2015 $17,400
Nissan Murano 2015 and newer $19,100
Minivans MODEL YEARS Price
Kia Sedona 2015 and newer $14,700
Honda Odyssey 2014 and newer $16,100
Toyota Sienna 2015 and newer $18,100
Pickup MODEL YEARS Price
Toyota Tundra extended cab (Double Cab) 2014 and newer $15,600

Good choices: recommended used vehicles for teens starting under $10,000

Vehicles on this list earn good ratings in the IIHS moderate overlap front, side and head restraint tests. If rated by NHTSA, they earn 4 or 5 stars overall or 4 or 5 stars in the front and side tests under the old rating scheme. All come with standard ESC.

All listed vehicles start under $10,000. Prices, provided by Kelley Blue Book and rounded to the nearest $100, are from March 1, 2017, for the lowest trim level and earliest applicable model year. The estimates are based on the following criteria: vehicle in good condition, typical mileage and private party purchase in Arlington, Va.

Note: Some listed models include a "built after" date. This applies when a manufacturer makes changes to improve safety in the middle of a model year. Information about when a specific vehicle was manufactured can be found on the certification label typically affixed to the driver door or near it.

Large cars Model years Price
Ford Taurus 2009 and newer $4,300
Mercury Sable 2009 $4,600
Audi A6 2007 and newer $5,600
Toyota Avalon 2009-14 $6,500
Buick LaCrosse 2010 and newer $7,500
Lincoln MKS 2009 and newer $7,800
Buick Regal 2011 and newer $8,000
Saab 9-5 2010-11 $9,700
Acura RL 2009 and newer $9,900
Midsize cars Model years Price
Saab 9-3 2005-11 $2,000
Suzuki Kizashi 2010-13 $3,600
Volkswagen Jetta sedan and wagon 2009-14 $3,900
Audi A4 sedan and wagon 2007 and newer; built after July 2006 $4,100
Volkswagen Passat sedan and wagon 2009-12 $4,500
Mercury Milan 2010-11 $5,200
Volkswagen CC 2009 and newer $5,200
Ford Fusion 2010-12 $5,300
Subaru Legacy 2009-12 $5,400
Volvo C30 2008-13 $5,400
Audi A3 2008-13 $5,700
Chevrolet Malibu 2010-13 $5,800
Honda Accord sedan 2008-12 $5,900
BMW 3-series sedan 2009 and newer $6,700
Lincoln MKZ 2010-12 $6,900
Hyundai Sonata 2011-14 $7,200
Subaru Outback 2010-12 $7,700
Acura TSX 2009-14 $8,300
Acura TL 2009-11 $8,400
Buick Verano 2012-15 $8,600
Mercedes-Benz C-Class 2009 and newer $8,600
Toyota Camry 2012-13 $9,100
Small SUVs Model years Price
Mitsubishi Outlander 2007-13 $3,900
Nissan Rogue 2008-13 $4,400
Subaru Forester 2007-13 $4,400
Ford Escape 2009 and newer $4,900
Mazda Tribute 2009-11 $4,900
Mercury Mariner 2009-11 $5,100
Honda Element 2007-11 $5,300
Honda CR-V 2007-14 $5,400
Volkswagen Tiguan 2009 and newer $5,800
Toyota RAV4 2009-14 $7,000
Hyundai Tucson 2010-15 $7,500
Kia Sportage 2011 and newer $7,700
Midsize SUVs Model years Price
Ford Taurus X 2008-09 $3,700
Saturn Vue 2008-09; built after December 2007 $4,000
Honda Pilot 2006 and newer $4,000
Hyundai Santa Fe 2007 and newer $4,300
Subaru Tribeca/B9 Tribeca 2006-14 $4,700
Ford Edge 2007-14 $5,200
Dodge Journey 2010 and newer $5,400
Hyundai Veracruz 2008-12 $5,700
Nissan Murano 2009-14 $5,900
Ford Flex 2009 $6,100
Acura RDX 2007 and newer $6,900
Chevrolet Equinox 2010-13 $6,900
GMC Terrain 2010-13 $7,100
Lincoln MKX 2007 and newer $7,100
BMW X3 2008 and newer $7,300
Mercedes-Benz M-Class 2007-15 $7,700
Toyota Highlander 2008 and newer $8,100
Honda Crosstour 2010-15 $8,200
Infiniti EX 2008-13 $8,200
Volvo XC60 2010-12 $8,200
Acura MDX 2007 and newer $8,300
Kia Sorento 2011-15 $8,400
Toyota Venza 2009-15 $8,400
BMW X5 2008-13 $8,600
Large SUVs Model years Price
Saturn Outlook 2008-09; built after March 2008 $5,000
Chevrolet Traverse 2009 and newer $6,300
GMC Acadia 2008 and newer; built after March 2008 $6,900
Buick Enclave 2008 and newer; built after March 2008 $7,300
Audi Q7 2008 and newer; built after December 2007 $9,100
Mercedes-Benz R-Class 2009-12; built after September 2008 $9,100
Minivans Model years Price
Kia Sedona 2006-14 $2,500
Hyundai Entourage 2007-08 $3,300
Honda Odyssey 2008-13 $4,800
Volkswagen Routan 2010-12 $5,600
Chrysler Town & Country 2010 and newer; built after March 2010 $6,100
Dodge Grand Caravan 2010 and newer; built after March 2010 $6,100
Nissan Quest 2011 and newer $8,500
Pickups Model years Price
Toyota Tundra extended cab (Double Cab) 2007-13 $8,400
Ford F-150 crew cab (SuperCrew) 2009 and newer $9,800

Background research