Best used car for teenage drivers list from the expert eye of Auto body repair shops

by Tom Zoebelein - Thu, Aug 7, 2014 11:31 AM

If there is one group of people truly know what a good strong and safe car is, it is an auto body shop employee. Think about it, these men and women spend every day hammering, pulling and welding twisted, accident damaged cars back into shape and putting them back on the road safely.

So if you are in the market for a good solid safe car for your new teenage driver, please read on as I discuss what a safe car is from our perspective. I will also give you a list of teen friendly cars.

I have children of my own however they are years away from driving age. But I did recently help a family member choose a safe and reliable car for a teenage cousin of mine. I have also been the go to car guy in my family for decades. I know that by going through this process how difficult and confusing it is to choose a safe teen car. First of all the information available is the same information shared from some mysterious source. Also the real life criteria for what constitutes a safe car for a teen driver have not been clearly established. I’ll start there.

There is no such thing as a Safe Car for teen drivers

This is a bold statement, but think of it this way, eight teenagers die in car accidents every single day. That data only includes deaths that occur within 30 days of the accident. If the child dies after being in a coma or simply dies after 30 days the number is not included in the national statistic. If you do the math the number of deaths really adds up. In one year, we will bury the equivalent of every single student who attends my local high school in all four grades…twice.

That is why I say there is no such thing as a safe teen car. There is not one single car built yet which will guarantee that your child will return home every single time they head out of your driveway. I’m being harsh on purpose because I want all parents to think long and hard about these statistics. The teen death rate is the only one not going down and car accidents are the number one cause of death for children under the age of 20.

Having said that, there ARE safety features that will mitigate some of the risks facing your teenage driver. And I will get to that list in just a moment.

Teen drivers will wreck cars

Teens will wreck cars, of course they do, the bang them up, they bump them and sometimes they even total them out because they are inexperienced drivers, they are easily distracted and they make dumb decisions. This is why most parents look for older and cheap cars to put their kids in because they don’t want to spend a lot if anything for auto body repairs. However I beg the question, why would you want to put the most inexperienced driver in the oldest car in your household fleet?

So when shopping for a car for your teen, look past price for just a moment and start looking for the following life saving features:

ESC- Electronic Stability Control

In plain English, ESC will apply the brakes or automatically decelerate a car when it senses that it is about to go into a skid. This is done with various sensors within the car. This technology like all advance auto safety technologies was once only reserved for luxury cars but now has trickled down into nearly every model and has been around for years.

Ultra High Strength Steel (A-UHSS)

In an effort to make stronger and lighter, more fuel-efficient cars, manufacturers began using this new steel in the structural components of cars beginning around 2005. But be careful when using that date as it took manufacturers a few years to incorporate it into the structure of all of their cars.  A-UHSS can often be found in the door Collision beams, A-pillars, B-pillars, rocker panels and floors. American cars typically have a higher usage of A-UHSS in their construction. If you want to check if a car that you are looking at has Ultra High Strength Steel or Boron Steel, this is a great resource to use at Born Extrication

teen driver fatality

Airbags- Side curtain if possible

We all know what airbags are and what they do. But if you can possibly find a car in your budget with side curtain airbags, move that car high up on your list.

Slow cars

I was once a teenage boy and I am also a hot-rodder. I know all too well that horsepower and testosterone don’t mix. If you think your child is going to be a bit of a lead foot, consider a car with only 4 cylinders and definitely one without turbo chargers. Modern cars are only getting faster, not slower so think long and hard about that 0-60 time on the car you are thinking of buying.

Size of the car

Teenage drivers in small two door and small and mini cars file more than double the amount of claims as drivers aged 35-50 in those same vehicles. Teens are 2.6 times as likely to file claims on small sportier cars as well. Cars with shorter wheelbases offer greater opportunity for loss of control, and their sporty maneuverability may tempt teen drivers to take more aggressive driving risks. Additionally with the reduced crush zone found in smaller cars, teen drivers are simply more at risk when behind the wheel.

Safe cars list

The following list is a modified and paired down version of the list that you can get from the IIHS at This list has been edited to remove cars that kids simply would not want to drive (vehicles such as mini vans) and includes cars with UHSS, are available with safety features standard such as ESC, and are generally speaking cards that teens would at least consider cool. I like to call these “bitch-proof” cars.

Also removed from the HIS list are cars that are no longer manufactured, are difficult to get parts for and do not hold up well from the eyes of an auto body repairer despite having decent 4 and 5 star crash safety ratings. No cars on this list receive three or fewer stars for crash safety.


Pricing is grouped into two groups, 10-20K and the “under ten grand land. These prices, rounded to the nearest $100, were taken from Kelley Blue Book on July 1, 2014, for the lowest trim level and earliest applicable model year.

Cars $10,000-under $20,000

LARGE CARS                       MODEL YEARS                                            PRICE

Lincoln MKS                          2009 and later                                                 $15,500

Ford Taurus                            2010 and later                                                 $13,500

Volvo S80                               2007 and later                                                 $9,000


MIDSIZE CARS                    MODEL YEARS                                            PRICE

Toyota Prius v                          2012 and later                                                 $19,100

Honda Accord sedan               2012 and up; coupe 2013-14                          $14,400

Audi A4                                  2009 and later                                                 $14,300

Toyota Camry                         2012 and later                                                 $14,300

Subaru Outback                      2010 and later                                                 $14,000

Kia Optima                             2011 and later                                                 $13,300

Hyundai Sonata                      2011 and later                                                 $12,100

Subaru Legacy                       2010 and later                                                 $11,900

Dodge Avenger                       2011 and later                                                 $11,600

Audi A3                                  2008 and later                                                 $11,300

Chevrolet Malibu        2010 and later; built after November 2009                 $10,900

Chrysler 200 sedan     2011 and later                                                             $10,700

Mercury Milan           2010-11; built after April 2010                                  $10,700

Ford Fusion    2010 and later; built after April 2010                                     $10,200

Volkswagen Passat                 2009 and later                                                 $10,000

Volvo C30                               2008 and later                                                 $9,800

Volkswagen Jetta                    2009 and later                                                 $8,200


SMALL SUVs                        MODEL YEARS                                            PRICE

Honda CR-V                           2012 and later                                                 $18,100

Kia Sportage                           2011 and later                                                 $13,800

Hyundai Tucson                     2010 and later                                                 $13,100

Subaru Forester                       2009 and later                                                 $12,800

Mitsubishi Outlander Sport   2011 and later                                                 $12,000

Volkswagen Tiguan                 2009 and later                                                 $10,200

Honda Element                       2007 and later                                                 $8,900


MIDSIZE SUVs                     MODEL YEARS                                            PRICE

Volvo XC60                            2010 and later                                                 $18,000

Toyota Highlander                  2008 and later                                                 $17,100

Toyota Venza                         2009 and later                                                 $15,900

Ford Edge                                2011 and later; built after February 2011       $15,500

Ford Flex                                 2010 and later                                                 $15,100

GMC Terrain                          2010 and later                                                 $14,900

Kia Sorento                             2011 and later                                                 $14,500

Infiniti EX                               2008 and later                                                 $14,400

Chevrolet Equinox                  2010 and later                                                 $13,700

Dodge Journey                        2010 and later                                                 $11,200

Subaru Tribeca/B9 Tribeca     2006 and later                                                 $8,500

Volvo XC90                            2005 and later                                                 $7,300


LARGE SUVs                            MODEL YEARS                                            PRICE

Buick Enclave                         2011 and later                                                 $19,900

GMC Acadia                          2011 and later                                                 $17,800

Chevrolet Traverse                 2011 and later                                                 $16,600


Under ten grand land


LARGE CARS                       MODEL YEARS                                            PRICE

Acura RL                                2005 and later                                                 $9,700

Mercury Sable                       2009                                                                $9,700

Kia Amanti                             2009                                                                $9,500

Ford Taurus                            2009                                                                $9,100

Audi A6 sedan                       2005 and later                                                 $8,300

Hyundai Azera                       2006 and later                                                 $5,700


MIDSIZE CARS                    MODEL YEARS                                            PRICE

Subaru Legacy                       2009                                                                $9,900

BMW 3-series sedan              2006 and later                                                 $9,300

Mazda 6                                  2009 and later                                                 $8,900

Acura TL                                2004 and later                                                 $7,900

Volvo S40                               2007 and later                                                 $7,700

Audi A3                                  2006-07                                                           $7,400

Volvo S60                               2007-09                                                           $6,500

Audi A4                                  2005-08; built after October 2004                  $6,200

Volkswagen Passat                 2006-08                                                           $5,100



SMALL SUVs                        MODEL YEARS                                            PRICE

Nissan Rogue                          2008 and later                                                 $9,800

Ford Escape                            2009 and later                                                 $8,700

Mazda Tribute                         2009 and later                                                 $8,100

Mitsubishi Outlander             2007 and later                                                 $6,300

Suzuki Grand Vitara               2006 and later                                                 $5,600


MIDSIZE SUVs                     MODEL YEARS                                            PRICE

Mazda CX-9                           2007 and later                                                 $9,800

Ford Edge                              2007-10                                                           $9,600

Hyundai Veracruz                   2007 and later                                                 $9,600

Hyundai Santa Fe                   2007-10                                                           $8,900

Honda Pilot                             2006 and later                                                 $8,800

Ford Taurus X                         2008-09                                                           $7,500

Mazda CX-7                           2007-11                                                           $7,200

Suzuki XL7                             2008-09                                                           $6,200