It’s that highly worrisome time in your life when your child turns 16 and is ready to get his or her much-anticipated driver’s license. So, should you hand over the keys and hope you see your car again in one piece? Or do you fork out the money and buy your teen a car? And if you decide to buy a new car—whether because they have more safety features, a warranty, and are likely to be more reliable—how do you decide which one?
Like many teens, yours may also want a fast sports car or big SUV. And while that’s understandable, it’s not a good idea. For one thing, teens typically have a hard time controlling their impulses, and it’s too tempting to drive a sporty car aggressively. Additionally, big SUVs are harder to handle and more prone to roll over at their handling limits.
So what kind of car should you buy? AAA recommends a midsized car with a four-cylinder engine, automatic transmission, and high crash-test scores. Here’s why:
- A midsized car is big enough to protect occupants in a crash but small enough for a novice driver to handle easily.
- The four-cylinder engine limits the car’s ability to accelerate (and hopefully the teen’s desire to show off).
- The four-cylinder engine generally provides better fuel economy (which also improves the car’s carbon footprint).
- Automatic transmissions are easier to drive and allow the novice to focus on steering, proper speed, and braking.
- And of course, the value of high crash-test scores needs no elaboration.
The Auto Club’s Automotive Research Center (ARC) developed the following list of 2013 midsized cars that meet the above-mentioned criteria. The crash-test scores were taken from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) website. Vehicles that scored the maximum five stars overall were only selected. Cars not tested by NHTSA as of the date of this publication were not included on the list, and since most 2014 models have not yet been tested, we limited this analysis to 2013 models only. The 2013 Fuel Economy Guide from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was used to determine which vehicles met the definition of midsized.
The manufacturer’s suggested retail prices (MSRPs) listed are for base-model vehicles with automatic transmission and include destination charges. Prices don’t include all-wheel drive (AWD), which is standard on Subarus but optional on most vehicles. AWD improves traction in poor weather so you might want to consider it for your teen’s new car if you live in an area with a lot of rain and snow. Finally, avoid cars with too many electronic gadgets. Teens can be easily distracted and need to focus on the task at hand—driving.
AAA’s List of Recommended Cars for Teens
||Base model with optional rear side air bags|
||Base with Value Package|