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Safest Cars for Teens Under $20,000

Parents choosing a car for their teen driver have a tough decision to make because they need to strike a balance between cost and safety.

The temptation—often born of necessity—is to buy a less expensive, bare-bones model or to pass down an older family car. But because the car will be transporting their children, parents should pick the best and safest car their budget allows.

Teenagers are among the riskiest drivers because of a combination of immaturity, inexperience, and social pressures. Consequently, teens have crash rates that are almost four times those of drivers 20 and older. Choosing the right car can help teens stay safe, but it can be challenging to balance all the factors that make a vehicle ideal for inexperienced drivers.

Consumer Reports and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) have joined forces to pick safe, reliable used cars, SUVs, and minivans that are well-suited for young drivers. Combining expertise and data, CR and the IIHS have compiled a simple list of vehicles that balance accident avoidance, crash protection, performance, and reliability. The vehicle recommendations are ideal for teens, but they can serve any shopper looking for a vehicle that excels in those areas.

All vehicles in this list are used cars and have a starting price of $20,000 or less. (Higher-trim models may cost more.) They are ranked within the car size by the starting price.

There are two tiers of recommendations: Good Choices and Best Choices.

Good Choices

To make the cut to be a Good Choice, the vehicles must have:

  • Electronic stability control. ESC has important crash prevention and lifesaving potential. It became standard on all passenger vehicles in 2012, and it was standard on many models prior to that year.
  • Above-average reliability for the majority of the years listed, based on CR’s member surveys.
  • 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).

Best Choices

The Best Choices meet a more stringent criteria that also factors:

A good or acceptable rating in the IIHS driver’s-side small-overlap front crash 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 such as a tree or utility pole.

Insurance claim rates. “Injury claims provide another window onto safety in the real world and may capture things that crash tests don’t,” says IIHS President David Harkey. Consequently, the Best Choices list 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.

These recommendations focus on “Goldilocks” models that provide the best all-around protection for inexperienced drivers. Ultimately, the goal is to select a reliable car with as much safety as you can afford. Increasingly, advanced driver assist systems (ADAS) are becoming widespread and are now available in many late-model used cars. Features such as forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking, pedestrian detection, and blind spot warning are all proven features that can help avoid collisions and are worth considering, if your budget allows.

The starting price listed is the least expensive version in the range of years, assuming that the vehicle is in good condition with typical mileage and that it’s sold via private party. The prices were provided by Kelley Blue Book.

For complete road tests, reliability, owner satisfaction, pricing, and much more, click on the model names below.

MODEL (YEAR RANGE) STARTING PRICE
SMALL CARS 
Mazda3 (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
MIDSIZED CARS
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 
Ford Taurus (2011-15) $5,400
Hyundai Azera (2012-14) $7,200
Buick Regal (2015-16) $8,900
SMALL SUVS 
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
MIDSIZED SUVS
Toyota Venza (2009-15) $7,000
Toyota Highlander (2008-19) $7,800
Ford Edge (2014-15) $10,000
MINIVAN
Toyota Sienna (2011-14) $7,100

Best Choices for Teens

MODEL (YEAR RANGE) STARTING PRICE
SMALL CARS 
Mazda 3 (2014 or newer; built after October 2013) $7,000
Subaru Impreza (2014 or newer) $8,700
Hyundai Elantra GT (2018 or newer) $14,000
Kia Forte (2019 or newer) $14,600
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
MIDSIZED CARS
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 (2016-2018) $9,800
Mazda 6 (2015 or newer) $10,500
Volkswagen Passat (2016-2018) $11,000
Toyota Prius V (2015-17) $12,600
Lincoln MKZ (2016 or newer) $13,300
Volvo S60 (2017-2018) $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
Hyundai Genesis (2016) $18,000
SMALL SUVS
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 (2015-2016, 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 (2017-2018; built after March 2017) $14,000
Hyundai Kona (2018 or newer) $14,500
Kia Niro (2018) $15,400
Audi Q3 (2016 or newer) $17,300
MIDSIZED SUVS
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 (2017-2018) $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 (2017-2018) $19,600
MINIVANS
Toyota Sienna (2015 or newer) $11,900
Honda Odyssey (2015-2016) $12,400
Kia Sedona (2016-17) $12,600

Martin Insurance Agency represent over 50 Insurance companies, so we shop multiple carriers on your behalf in order to find you the best coverage at the best price. Contact us today to get a hassle-free quote and see how much money you can save.