4 Safe Used Cars for Teenagers (Plus a Few Free Tips)

Are you planning on buying a car this fall for your high-schooler? Having a car is a rite of passage for teenagers yet can be a source of stress for parents. It means less ferrying them around but more worrying when they’re late. (Did they have an accident or are they just goofing off with friends?)

We can’t help you with the challenges of parenting teenagers but we can help you find a safe used car for them to drive.


How To Choose A Safe Used Car

In 2014, the IIHS did research that showed that many teens weren’t driving the safest cars. JD Power recommends the updated IIHS list because of the “more stringent criteria” used in the selection process now that advanced safety features are available on a wider range of vehicles.

As for those advanced safety features, Consumer Reports considers electronic stability control (ESC) and curtain airbags as the most important, particularly for less experienced drivers. They also highly recommend looking for a car with forward-collision warning (FCW) and automatic emergency braking (AEB).

Other important safety features you may want to consider are blind-spot warning (BSW), which can help prevent sideswipe accidents, and a lane-departure warning system (LDW) that alerts drivers if they stray from their lane. It also acts as a not-so-subtle reminder to use a turn signal!

These safety features may increase the cost of your teenager’s first car but they could be lifesavers in case of an accident.

The recommendations on teen vehicle choice are guided by four main principles:

  • Young drivers should stay away from high horsepower. Vehicles with more powerful engines can tempt them to test the limits.
  • Bigger, heavier vehicles protect better in a crash. 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.
  • 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 test, acceptable ratings in the IIHS side crash test and four or five stars from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

Your used car dealer is a great source of information about which safety features are available on specific models. Ask your dealer to show you the features and explain or demonstrate how those features can keep your teenager safe.

Our Recommended Safe Used Cars & SUVs

Our choices were all recommended by either the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) or Consumer Reports (CR) as the safest used cars for teenagers.

Chevrolet Equinox 

Depending on the year, the Equinox may have antilock brakes, daytime running lights, head curtain airbags in front and rear, front torso airbags, and electronic stability control (including roll stability). It may also have a rollover sensor that can sense an impending rollover accident and deploy the side curtain airbags to cushion your teen and any passengers. Browse our selection of used cars for sale near Kansas City to find the perfect pre-owned Equinox for your high-schooler.

Consumer Report’s list of the Best Used Cars for Teens recommends the redesigned Equinox (4-cylinder, 2012 or newer models), Chevy Malibu and the Chevy Sonic.

IIHS also recommends the Equinox along with the Chevy Malibu and Malibu Limited. Other GMC ‘best choice’ models on the updated IIHS list include the Buick EncoreChevy Trax, and GMC Terrain.

Hyundai Sonata

A used Hyundai Sonata may be equipped with the same available safety features as the Chevy Equinox listed above, including ABS, DRL, ESC, and multiple airbags. Ask your used Hyundai dealer if the specific Sonata you’re interested in has any additional safety features.

Both IIHS and CR recommend the Sonata as a safe car for teens. Consumer Reports suggests choosing a non-turbo, 4-cylinder model from 2011 or later. CR also recommends select models of the Hyundai TucsonElantraSanta Fe and Santa Fe Sport.

Nissan Rogue  

Again, most used Rogue SUVs have the same available safety features listed with the Chevy Equinox: antilock brakes, daytime running lights, head curtain airbags in front and rear, front torso airbags, electronic stability control, and a rollover sensor with automatic side curtain airbag deployment.

The Rogue is another model that appears on both lists. So does the Nissan Altima sedan, while the Murano and Pathfinder appear on the IIHS list, and CR recommends the Nissan Sentra.

Toyota RAV4

Available safety features on most used RAV4 crossovers include antilock brakes, daytime running lights, electronic stability control, and rollover sensors with deployment capability. It may also have side curtain airbags in the front and rear along with torso airbags mounted on the front seats.

Additional safety systems could include a driver-knee airbag mounted in the lower instrument panel, as well as a seat cushion airbag designed to prevent passengers from sliding out from under their seatbelts. (The latter could be an important factor when considering the safety of smaller-statured teens.)

The RAV4 appears on both lists, with CR recommending a 4-cylinder engine and no third-row seat. Other Toyota models that appear on both lists are the Camry and Prius V. The IIHS list also includes the Avalon and Sienna, while CR’s additional picks are the Corolla and Matrix.

Always Ask Your Used Car Dealer For Advice!

Whether a specific vehicle has any of the safety features listed above will depend on the year, trim package, and possible options. Your used car dealer can help you determine if the vehicle that caught your teen’s eye has the safety features you’re looking for.

To get the safest used car for your teenager in Kansas City, visit our Blue Springs used car dealership! We have amazing prices and deals on pre-owned vehicles that should keep your teen secure, no matter where they’re heading off to. Contact us at 816-224-7500 or visit McCarthy Pre-Owned Supercenter at 3030 NW South Outer Rd in Blue Springs, MO, to browse our selection of quality vehicles for sale.

Additional Resources For Parents

Need some advice on how to help your teen driver recognize and avoid driving hazards? The Research Institute at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia can help. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) offers guidelines for teen drivers that can help you guide your teen down the path to safe driving in their safe-as-possible used car. And anyone at our used car dealership in Blue Springs can give you a hand!