How to Find the Perfect Used Vehicle for a Teenager

Find out what moms and dads need to know to purchase safe used cars for their teen drivers.

Are you a panicked parent who is concerned about buying a used car for a new teen driver?


Don’t worry. You’re not alone. But, your concerns are justified.


Along with the first day of school, the senior prom and going off to college, sending an inexperienced driver out on the road is one of every parent’s biggest worries.


When it comes to buying a car, kids care about coolness, color and connectivity.


Moms and dads are more concerned about crash test scores, reliability and accident prevention technology.


Parents are justified in being worried about the safety of their offspring when it comes to driving.


Teen drivers: The reality.

Teens are more likely to be involved in accidents than any other category of drivers. This is because of inexperience and reckless driving habits. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), car accidents are the leading cause of death for American teenagers. It is sobering to think that six people aged 16 to 19 die every day from motor vehicle related injuries.


Distracted driving is a top cause of accidents involving teen drivers. A recent study from the American Automobile Association (AAA) Foundation for Traffic Safety reports that it played a role in almost six out of ten crashes involving young drivers. The AAA study also found that almost 50 percent of teens admit to speeding on a residential street in the month prior to when they were surveyed. Forty percent say they did the same thing on a highway. It’s enough to keep moms and dads from sleeping at night.


The good news is that in most cases, parents pay for the cars their teens drive. Because of this, they get final say over the models they buy. Their concerns about safety and dependability usually win out in the end over the automotive preferences of their kids.


What parents can do.

So, what should parents look out for when selecting used cars for newbie drivers? Here are some things to consider:


Ratings, reviews and scores.

  • Top-notch safety ratings. Parents should check the ratings from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). Purchasing used cars with top scores will help parents rest assured knowing they’re doing what they can to protect their kids.
  • Solid crash test scores. Every year, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) conducts crash testson vehicles. The organization rates their performance on a five star scale. Five stars are given to the safest vehicles. Those they consider unsafe get one star. Use the ratings to guide your vehicle selection process. You can find NHTSA safety ratings online or through your dealership.
  • Good reliability reports. Cars that are known to be reliable will drive better for a longer time. This will ensure solid and dependable handling for years to come. This is important because kids could hang on to their cars for many years, often through college and the start of their careers. Parents can do a Google search for reliability information on virtually any model.
  • Good ratings and reviews. It’s a smart idea for moms and dads to do a search online for any of the models they’re considering buying. Check out ratings and reviews from a range of reputable sources. Many automotive writers and reviewers are parents themselves and will note models that are appropriate for teens and families in their write ups.


  • Crash avoidance features and technology. Look for models with safety features like forward collision warning systems, rear cross traffic alerts, lane departure warnings and automatic braking. Late model cars sometimes come with technology that allows parents to set speed and audio volume restrictions when their teen is behind the wheel. Other systems send parents updates on their driving habits. If you can’t find a car that offers these things, consider using a similar system that monitors and reports driving behavior to your car insurance company. This is done through a transmitter installed in the vehicle or via a smartphone app. Sometimes the knowledge that they’re being “watched” is enough to get teens to practice safe driving habits. Check with your insurance provider to find out if this is something that makes sense for you to do.
  • Integrated technology. Teens are addicted to their smartphones and other devices. Vehicles that integrate this technology into the driving experience and get it out of the hands of drivers are safer options.

What moms and dads should avoid.

There are also some things parents should avoid when buying cars for new drivers:

  • Extremely small automobiles. These typically have poor crumple zones and perform badly in crash tests.
  • Trucks and SUVs. Larger vehicles are often difficult to handle and require greater skill to drive than moderate sized ones.
  • High seating capacity. Cars that are able to hold a large number of passengers are a bad idea. Studies show that each additional passenger in a vehicle driven by a teen increases the likelihood of an accident happening.
  • Sports cars. Sporty autos encourage teens to drive fast and take reckless chances. Everyone wants to be the coolest kid at school, but giving a teenager a sports car is a recipe for disaster.


It’s important for parents to do everything possible to provide sound transportation for their kids. However, it’s also critical that young people be taught safe driving habits and that they’re consistently reinforced. If you find that your teenager is regularly driving in unsafe ways, take away the keys. It may cause drama in your home, however it’s better than the alternative of having someone you love being involved in an accident.

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