The best used cars for teenage drivers

Finding a vehicle for your teen driver can seem challenging. You want something affordable, but of course, safety is also a top priority. 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 pump, 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 that five used car models stood 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 on 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 are still higher than a year ago. While we used to suggest vehicles under $10,000, we’ve raised 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 used car prices are changing rapidly with inflation. We also reviewed each vehicle’s fuel economy to account for fluctuating gas prices. Our research shows that these are the five best cars for teenage 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. No wonder it’s also one of the most used cars for teenagers. The sedan was an IIHS Top Safety Pick every year from 2009 to 2017. The Civic also gets fantastic fuel economy, with an EPA-estimated average of 31 mpg combined city/highway. It also has the second lowest average car price on our list and tends to hold its resale value well.

Low average prices Small size means limited interior space
Strong resale value Acceleration can feel sluggish

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 tops the list as one of the best cars for teenagers and among the best-selling cars nationwide. Camry owners tend to keep these vehicles for a long time, indicating that the vehicles remain reliable. While top-of-the-line models can cost upwards of $25,000, it’s possible to find a no-frills version for under $25,000. The standard 2012 gasoline model gets about 28 mpg combined city/highway. The IIHS included the 2012–2014 Camrys on its Top Safety Pick list, and the NHTSA gave the same models five-star overall safety ratings.

They tend to be reliable over long periods of time Some drivers report “loose” handling.
It ranks high in security 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 Nissan Altima model since 2014 has earned a five-star NHTSA safety rating and is an IIHS Top Safety Pick. Even on base models, Bluetooth connectivity and smart key engine start are standard features, while models from 2016 onwards also get 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.

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

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

5. Subaru Outback (2013–2016)

Best for extra 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 might be a good choice if you want your teenager to have a little more space or need the towing capacity. Despite being a size larger, the Outback gets good mileage, averaging 20 to 28 mph combined city/highway, depending on year and trim package. The Outback is consistently an IIHS Top Safety Pick and has a five-star rating from NHTSA. However, the Outback has had more traction than the other vehicles on our list.

Roomier interior than other vehicles listed Some model years have had multiple recalls
Towing capacity 3000 lbs The larger size (compared to others on our list) may mean less maneuverability

Car insurance for teenagers

Car insurance rates for young drivers tend to be higher than other age groups. That’s because teenage drivers have less experience on the road, which means a greater probability of accidents and tickets. While you will likely pay a higher price for a teenage driver than an older driver, there are ways to get lower rates.

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

*Prices reflect the total cost for teenagers insured on their parents’ single-vehicle policy.

Frequently asked questions

METHODOLOGY

Bankrate uses 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 population density in each geographic region. Rates quoted 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 teenage driver added to the policy. The following full coverage limits were used:

  • Liability $100,000 for bodily injury 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 personal injury for accident
  • $500 collision deductible
  • $500 off all inclusive

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

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

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