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Consumer Reports, IIHS team up to recommend used vehicle options for teens


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Consumer Reports (CR) and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) are teaming up for the first time to recommend safe, reliable and affordable used vehicles for teenage drivers.

In recent years, both organizations have released lists of recommended vehicles for teens, using slightly different selection criteria. By joining forces, CR and IIHS are making it even easier for young drivers or their parents to find a vehicle that checks all the boxes for safety, performance and reliability.

Teenagers are among the riskiest drivers, but they frequently end up with vehicles that don't provide adequate protection in a crash. Often, they find themselves driving old cars that lack modern safety features like side airbags or electronic stability control (ESC). When teenagers do get behind the wheel of a new car, it's usually one of the smallest models, which don't protect as well as larger vehicles in crashes.

Reliability is another key consideration. A young driver's first car will probably need to last for years, and parents don't want their teen stranded because of a breakdown.

The list of 65 recommended used vehicles, ranging from $5,300 to $19,600, shows that safety can be both affordable and practical.

"Our focus has always been safety, as reflected in our vehicle ratings, but we recognize that a lot of other factors go into families' purchasing decisions," says IIHS President David Harkey. "This partnership with Consumer Reports will help new drivers and their parents zero in on the best used vehicles overall."

"We are delighted to be able to team up with IIHS to jointly develop a list of used vehicles for teens that deliver a smart and effective combination of safety technology and reliability, all without breaking the bank," says Jennifer Stockburger, director of operations at CR’s Auto Test Center. "Vehicles on this list can help teens stay safe as they gain driving experience."

Although the list is intended specifically for teen drivers, the organizations emphasize that it can be a resource for anyone looking for a safe, reliable and affordable used car.

Consumers who consult the list won't find any sports cars or other vehicles with excessive horsepower because these vehicles can tempt teens to test the limits. In addition, there are no minicars or vehicles under 2,750 pounds. The biggest, heaviest vehicles, including those in the large SUV class, have also been left off the list because they can be hard to handle and often have increased braking distances.

The list of recommended vehicles is divided into Good Choices and Best Choices, which offer a slightly higher level of safety. Both Good Choices and Best Choices have:

  • standard ESC
  • above-average reliability, based on CR's member survey, for the majority of the years listed
  • average or better scores from CR's emergency handling tests
  • dry braking distances of less than 145 feet from 60 mph in CR's brake tests
  • good ratings in four IIHS crashworthiness tests — moderate overlap front, side, roof strength and head restraints
  • four or five stars from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (if rated)

In addition, the Best Choices have a good or acceptable rating in the IIHS driver-side small overlap front test, which was launched in 2012. The test replicates what happens when the front left corner of a vehicle collides with another vehicle or an object like a tree or utility pole.

The top tier also excludes vehicles that have substantially higher than average insurance claim rates under medical payment or personal injury protection coverage. Both coverage types pay for injuries to occupants of the insured vehicle. The Highway Loss Data Institute, an IIHS affiliate, collects and publishes insurance loss data by make and model every year. The results are adjusted for driver age, gender and other factors that could affect risk.

"Injury claims provide another window onto safety in the real world and may capture things that crash tests don't," Harkey says.

Before buying a specific used vehicle, consumers should check for outstanding recalls and have the vehicle inspected by a qualified mechanic.

CR evaluates cars based on their performance, safety and how well they hold up over time. Its annual list of vehicles that are best suited for new or young drivers focuses on attributes most critical for less-experienced drivers.

IIHS is best known for crash tests of new vehicles and the annual TOP SAFETY PICK awards. The Institute began issuing used vehicle recommendations in 2014 after IIHS researchers found that teenagers were likely to drive very old or very small vehicles. 

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.

With that reality in mind, in 2014, we began publishing a list of affordable used vehicles that meet important safety criteria for teen drivers.

Consumer Reports (CR) has published similar lists of recommended vehicles for teens, using different criteria such as vehicle reliability and performance in braking and emergency handling tests.

Now our organizations have joined forces to recommend safe, reliable and affordable used vehicles. Our goal is to make it even easier for young drivers or their parents to find a vehicle that checks all the boxes for safety, performance and reliability.

There are two tiers of recommended vehicles, best choices and good choices. Prices range from a little over $5,000 to nearly $20,000, so parents can buy the most safety for their money, whatever their budget.

Remember to 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.

Best choices

Updated July 30, 2020

All listed vehicles earn good ratings in the IIHS moderate overlap front, side, roof strength and head restraint tests, as well as a good or acceptable rating in the driver-side 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 electronic stability control and have a curb weight greater than 2,750 pounds.

These vehicles have above-average reliability scores from CR for the majority of model years listed and CR emergency handling scores of 3 out of 5 or higher. They also have dry braking distances (going from 60 mph to zero) of 145 feet or less.

Vehicles with substantially higher than average claim frequency under medical payment or personal injury protection coverage are excluded from this list.

Small cars Model years Price
Mazda 3 sedan and hatchback 2014 or newer; built after October 2013 $7,000
Subaru Impreza sedan and wagon 2014 or newer $8,700
Hyundai Elantra GT 2018 or newer $14,000
Kia Forte 2019 or newer $14,600
Kia Niro hybrid and plug-In hybrid 2018 $15,400
Toyota Corolla hatchback 2019 or newer $15,800
Honda Insight 2019 or newer $17,900
Subaru Crosstrek 2018 or newer $18,700
Toyota Prius Prime 2017 or newer $18,700
Midsize cars Model years Price
Subaru Legacy 2013 or newer; built after August 2012 $7,600
Subaru Outback 2013 or newer; built after August 2012 $8,500
Honda Accord sedan and coupe 2013 or newer $9,200
Volkswagen Jetta 2016-18 $9,800
Mazda 6 2015 or newer $10,500
Volkswagen Passat 2016-18 $11,000
Toyota Prius v 2015-17 $12,600
Lincoln MKZ 2016 or newer $13,300
Volvo S60 2017-18 $15,300
Nissan Altima 2019 or newer $17,000
Audi A3 2017, 2020 $18,300
BMW 3-series sedan 2017 or newer; built after November 2016 $18,600
Large car Model years Price
Hyundai Genesis 2016 $18,000
Small SUVs Model years Price
Mazda CX-5 2014 or newer; built after October 2013 $8,200
Buick Encore 2016 and newer $10,700
Chevrolet Equinox 2016 or newer $12,100
Honda CR-V 2015-16, 2019 or newer $12,200
Mazda CX-3 2017 or newer $12,300
Subaru Forester 2016 or newer $12,500
Nissan Rogue 2017 or newer $13,400
Toyota RAV4 2015 or newer; built after November 2014 $13,800
Honda HR-V 2017-18; built after March 2017 $14,000
Hyundai Kona 2018 or newer $14,500
Audi Q3 2016 or newer $17,300
Midsize SUVs Model years Price
GMC Terrain 2014, 2016 or newer $9,400
Kia Sorento 2016 or newer $13,400
Nissan Murano 2015 or newer $13,800
Hyundai Santa Fe Sport 2017-18 $15,800
Hyundai Santa Fe 2017 or newer; built after March 2016 $17,800
Mazda CX-9 2017 or newer; built after November 2016 $18,400
Lincoln MKX 2017-18 $19,600
Minivans Model years Price
Toyota Sienna 2015 or newer $11,900
Honda Odyssey 2015-16 $12,400
Kia Sedona 2016-17 $12,600

Good choices

Updated July 30, 2020

All listed vehicles earn good ratings in the IIHS moderate overlap front, side, roof strength 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 electronic stability control and have a curb weight greater than 2,750 pounds.

These vehicles have above-average reliability scores from CR for the majority of model years listed and CR emergency handling scores of 3 out of 5 or higher. They also have dry braking distances (going from 60 mph to zero) of 145 feet or less.

Small cars Model years Price
Mazda 3 sedan and hatchback 2011-13 $5,300
Honda Civic sedan 2012-15 $5,600
Toyota Corolla sedan 2012 or newer $6,800
Toyota Prius 2011 or newer $6,800
Midsize cars Model years Price
Subaru Legacy 2011-12 $5,700
Lincoln MKZ 2011-12 $6,000
Subaru Outback 2011-12 $6,600
Toyota Camry 2012 or newer $7,500
Toyota Prius v 2012-14 $7,800
Honda Accord sedan 2012 $7,900
Hyundai Sonata 2015-16 $10,100
Large cars Model years Price
Ford Taurus 2011-15 $5,400
Hyundai Azera 2012-14 $7,200
Buick Regal 2015-16 $8,900
Small SUVs Model years Price
Hyundai Tucson 2011-15 $5,400
Ford Escape 2015, 2018-19 $9,300
Kia Sportage 2015, 2018 $10,200
Toyota RAV4 2013-14 $10,900
Midsize SUVs Model years Price
Toyota Venza 2009-15 $7,000
Toyota Highlander 2008-19 $7,800
Ford Edge 2014-15 $10,000
Minivans Model years Price
Toyota Sienna 2011-14 $7,100
  • FootnotePrices, provided by Kelley Blue Book (Beware Misstated Prices) rounded to the nearest $100, are Kelley's U.S. values from July 1, 2020, 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.

  • FootnoteSome 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.