For many teenagers today, buying that first car is a rite of passage.
Shopping for cars for new teen drivers
Imagine that first car moment. Few things in life are more exciting for a teen than the prospect of getting their first car. For many teens who have recently received a driver's license or plan on doing so soon, getting their own car is a top priority. Parents will often share their excitement, but may also be concerned about finding the vehicle that's right for their new teen driver.
Important considerations for new drivers
For teens and parents alike, there are a number of considerations to keep in mind when it comes to shopping for that first car. It may be wise to look at vehicles with lower horsepower and less powerful engines. A more modest engine may prevent teens from being tempted to "push the limits" in terms of speed.
The size of the vehicle should also be considered when shopping for the best first car. Generally, larger and heavier vehicles are better suited for new drivers, as are cars with electronic stability control (ESC) as an included feature.
Of course, most parents of new drivers will also want to factor in price when selecting a car for their teen. While each family’s financial situation is unique, parents may want to stay well under the $20,000 mark when looking to make that first purchase.
- Establish a budget. Decide how much of your income you can afford to spend monthly on car payments, fuel, car insurance, and vehicle maintenance.
- Decide how you're paying for the car. Depending on your financing, it may be a small or large percentage of the car’s cost. To learn what types of finance options are already available to you, speak with your financial institution, or visit a CarMax location.
- Identify what you need and want from a car. Consider how long you have to commute, weather conditions in your area and what features are important to you.
- Research car prices. Discover which type of car is right for you. For your first car, we suggest you look for a vehicle that is practical and affordable.
- Choose several models to compare. We’ve got several lists of best-selling vehicles for different needs, including 15 Cars Under 15K.
- Research the lifetime ownership cost. Several major factors that affect the overall lifetime costs of a vehicle include fuel, maintenance, insurance, finance charges, vehicle license, registration, applicable fees, and taxes.
- Take a test drive. Find out how it drives on the types of roads you’ll be using regularly. Make a list of things you want to check on your test drive.
For teens who will be paying for their own vehicle, buying used is a sensible way to go. They may be in the market for a used car under $20,000, or perhaps even under $15,000. For questions about financing, check out our article on car-financing for first-time car buyers. First-time car buyers should consider saving for a larger down payment. This will likely make it easier to get approved for car financing, since borrowers won't need to qualify for as much as they would with a lower down payment. There’s also the added bonus of lower monthly payments and less spent on interest when you save up for a larger down payment.
Best-cars for teen drivers
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety(IIHS) identified a best-choices list of “recommended used vehicles for teens starting under $20,000.” From that list, we identified the top-ten, best-selling vehicles at CarMax between 1/1/2017 and 9/20/2017 that were less than $20,000.* Certain vehicles may have unrepaired safety recalls. Click here to look up a specific vehicle. Whether you're interested in a sedan or SUV for your new teen driver's first vehicle, there are plenty of great options. Check out this list below:
The Ford Fusion has been a hot seller since it first debuted several years ago, but its recent redesign has made it an especially popular choice among parents of new teen drivers. This model year features three different trim levels, as well as a hybrid and electric plug-in option. Teens will enjoy the stylish interior cabin design, as well as the optional MyFord Touch® touchscreen that makes it easy to access navigation, music, and other features for tech lovers.
Teen drivers will also enjoy the sleek exterior design of the 2016 Fusion, with its base trim’s standard 16-inch wheels and sporty appearance. Parents, on the other hand, are more likely to enjoy the Ford Fusion for its size and performance. This midsized sedan comes standard with a simple yet efficient 2.5-liter, four-cylinder engine that gets an estimated 26 mpg combined.* The engine provides just the right amount of power for new teen drivers to navigate everything from side streets to busy freeways. At the same time, the Fusion affords a comfortable and quiet driving experience with excellent handling and steering.
For many new drivers, smooth handling and a driver-focused cabin are two must-haves when behind-the-wheel. Fortunately, the 2014 Chevrolet Malibu delivers on both these fronts. Available in four trim levels, this Malibu comes standard with many features that both parents and teen drivers alike will enjoy.
The base LS trim comes with large 16-inch alloy wheels, as well as automatic headlights and power accessories. OnStar® is also available with a monthly or annual fee, allowing teen drivers to call for assistance directly with an OnStar representative. Teen drivers can listen to their favorite tunes in style. The 2014 Malibu LS comes with standard Bluetooth® connectivity and six-speaker sound system. Finally, whoever is paying for gas will be grateful for the estimated 29 mpg combined found in the standard LS trim with its 2.5-liter engine.*
If you’re shopping for yourself or on the market for an SUV for a new teen driver, don’t overlook the 2015 Chevrolet Equinox. This crossover offers the maneuverability and handling of a mid- to full-sized sedan with the added storage and weight of a smaller SUV. Teens who are involved in sports or other extracurriculars will enjoy the ample cargo space offered by this crossover; with seats folded down, teens can enjoy as much as 64 cubic feet — perfect for hauling athletic gear to and from the big game.
Meanwhile, parents will enjoy the standard 2.4-liter, four-cylinder engine in the base L trim, which gets an estimated 26 mpg combined.* This puts it in line with the fuel economy of many midsized sedans on the market, making this an excellent vehicle choice for those wanting a gas-sipper. Also included standard in the 2015 Equinox are optional, larger 17-inch alloy wheels, automatic headlights, and an AUX input jack for easy streaming of music from an MP3 player or other device.
Heading back to the midsized sedans, the 2014 Kia Optima is a superb choice for new teen drivers. Available in four different trim levels, even the standard trim has several compelling standard features to offer. Teens seeking an easy-to-handle and smooth ride will enjoy 16-inch alloy wheels, heated mirrors, and full power accessories as well as a six-speaker sound system.
Drivers will also like the standard Bluetooth connectivity and built-in satellite radio (available with a subscription) for those exciting road trips. Still, parents will appreciate the standard foglights and moderate 2.4-liter, four-cylinder engine that delivers a comfortable ride with responsive shifting and steering. Fuel economy for this base LX engine clocks in at an estimated 26 mpg combined, which is not bad for a used sedan of its size.*
The 2014 Honda Accord will really speak to parents and teens looking for a midsize sedan with excellent fuel economy and a smooth, responsive driving experience. Even in the base LX trim, the four-cylinder engine delivers an estimated 30 mpg combined, making this an affordable option to drive on a day-to-day basis.*
The 2014 Honda Accord LX boasts some great standard features that will attract both teens and their parents, including Bluetooth® connectivity for hands-free calling, an eight-inch video display, and even a rearview camera. When it comes to standard features offered, the 2014 Accord is one of the most generous used vehicles on the market that gives you a lot of bang for your buck.
The 2014 Fusion comes with a smaller price tag at CarMax than the 2016 model, yet boasts many of the same features for teen drivers. Parents will enjoy the base 2.5-liter, four-cylinder engine and standard automatic headlights, blind-spot monitor (a highly-sought after feature for new drivers), and full-power accessories.
This Fusion also comes standard with 60/40 folding rear seats to increase storage capacity, making this a great vehicle choice for teens who may need a little extra storage for sporting equipment or other cargo. Fuel economy is in-line with the newer 2015 model year at an estimated 26 mpg combined (2.5L, V6 engine) in the base trim.*
Available in five different trims, the 2014 Camry is one of the most customizable vehicle options for teen drivers. The base LE comes with power controls and rear folding seats for added cargo storage. Standard Bluetooth® connectivity for phone and audio combined with a 6.1-inch touchscreen display are also appealing for teens.
Meanwhile, parents will have the peace of mind that comes with standard 16-inch wheels, stability/traction control, and a smooth 2.5-liter, four-cylinder engine. Fuel economy in this 2014 Toyota Camry LE is very respectable for a car of its model year at an estimated 28 mpg combined.*
The 2014 Nissan Altima gives you lots of options at an affordable price. The budget-friendly price tag and robust trim options available, as well as seemingly never-ending standard features, make this a great pick. The standard trim comes with a 2.5-liter, four-cylinder engine that gets an estimated 31 mpg combined.*
Teen drivers will experience an upscale feel in the interior, as well as the comfortable and "zero gravity" front seats. Parents will enjoy the above-average performance and capable handling that new drivers need for everyday commutes and those inevitable spring break road trips.
When it comes to selecting the best car for a new teen driver, you can't go wrong checking out these options. From gas-sipping midsize sedans to larger crossovers, parents and teens have plenty of choices. Whether you're focused on fuel economy, handling, comfort, or standard features, this list will help you reach the right decision for you.
Want to learn more? Check out these resources for first-time car buyers below:
- Cars & College: A Complete Guide
- Car Financing for First-Time Car Buyers
- 12 Smart Tips for Buying the Right Used Car
- Which Car Type is Right for Me?
- Tips to Help You Decide on a New or Used Car
- Your 10 Biggest Car Financing Questions, Answered
- Great Ways to Save on Your Next Used Car Infographic
List source: http://www.iihs.org/iihs/ratings/vehicles-for-teens
*Based on EPA estimates for when vehicle sold as new. See fueleconomy.gov. Fuel economy may vary for reasons like driving conditions and vehicle history.
**Actual prices may vary based on your selected features and trim packages. Prices do not include taxes, tags, titles, and any applicable fees.
Unless otherwise noted, information relating to these featured vehicles comes from third-party sources, including manufacturer information. Product and company names may be trademarks™ or registered® trademarks of third-party entities. Use of them does not imply any affiliation with or endorsement by these entities.