Best Used Cars for Teens Under $20,000


These safe, reliable used cars and SUVs are well suited for young drivers

By Jeff S. Bartlett

Parents choosing a car for their teen driver have a tough decision to make because they need to strike a balance between cost and safety.

The temptation—often born of necessity—is to buy a less-expensive, bare-bones model or to pass down an older family car. But because the car will be transporting their children, we feel that parents should pick the best and safest car their budget allows.

Teenagers are among the riskiest drivers because of a combination of immaturity, inexperience, and social pressures. Consequently, they have crash rates that are almost four times those of drivers 20 and older. Choosing the right car can help teens stay safe, but it can be challenging to balance all the factors that make a vehicle ideal for inexperienced drivers.

Consumer Reports and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) have again combined their expertise and data to create lists of used cars, SUVs, and minivans that combine accident avoidance, crash protection, performance, and reliability. The vehicle recommendations are ideal for teens, but they can serve any shopper looking for a vehicle that excels in those areas.

“In compiling these lists, we found that some of the same models that were on last year’s lists are actually more expensive now even though they’re a year older due to the tumultuous market,” says Jennifer Stockburger, director of operations at Consumer Reports Auto Test Center. “As the same amount of money may not be going as far, it’s even more important to make it a safe and reliable choice.”

Even amid elevated prices, we kept our cutoff at $20,000. There are many good choices for far less—just fewer than last year. For some families, the soaring prices may mean that buying a new car is the right move, particularly with lower loan interest rates. Not to worry: We have a list for that.

Even in this tight market, it’s possible to find some good options for young drivers. CR and IIHS identified about 50 used vehicles ranging from $6,000 to $19,900 that meet stringent safety and reliability criteria.

We present two tiers of recommendations: Good Choices and Best Choices.

Table of Contents

Good Choices

To make the cut to be a Good Choice, the vehicles must have:

  • Electronic stability control. ESC has important crash prevention and lifesaving potential. It became standard on all passenger vehicles in 2012 and was standard on many models before then. All vehicles have this important feature as standard equipment for the years listed.

  • Above-average reliability for a majority of the years listed, based on CR’s member surveys.

  • Average or better scores from CR’s emergency handling tests.

  • Dry braking distances of less than 145 feet from 60 mph in CR’s brake tests.

  • Good ratings in four IIHS crashworthiness tests: moderate-overlap front, side, roof strength, and head restraints.

  • Four or five stars from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (if rated).

Good Choices for Teens

Model (Year Range)

Starting Price


Mazda 3 sedan or hatchback (2011-13; built after December 2010)


Honda Civic sedan (2012-15, 2019 or newer)


Toyota Prius (2011 or newer)


Chevrolet Volt (2013)


Toyota Corolla sedan (2014 or newer)


Lexus CT200h (2012-13)



Toyota Prius V (2012-14)


Toyota Camry (2012 or newer)


Honda Accord sedan (2012 or newer) or coupe (2013 or newer)


Volkswagen Jetta (2016)


Ford Fusion (2015, 2018)


BMW 3 Series sedan (2016)


Nissan Altima (2017, 2020)



Ford Taurus (2011)


Hyundai Genesis (2011)


Toyota Avalon (2011-14)



Nissan Rogue (2014-20)


Best Choices

A good or acceptable rating in the IIHS driver’s-side small-overlap front crash test, which was launched in 2012. The test replicates what happens when the front left corner of a vehicle collides with another vehicle or an object such as a tree or utility pole.

Insurance claim rates. The Best Choices list excludes vehicles that have substantially higher than average insurance claim rates under medical payment or personal injury protection coverage. Both coverage types pay for injuries to occupants of the insured vehicle. The Highway Loss Data Institute, an IIHS affiliate, collects and publishes insurance loss data by make and model every year. The results are adjusted for driver age, gender, and other factors that could affect risk.

These recommendations focus on “Goldilocks” models that provide the best all-around protection for inexperienced drivers. Ultimately, the goal is to select a reliable car with as much safety as you can afford. Active driver assist systems (ADAS) are becoming widespread and are now available in many late-model used cars. Features such as forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking, pedestrian detection, and blind spot warning are proven features that can help avoid collisions and are worth considering if your budget allows.

All vehicles in this list are used cars and have a starting price of $20,000 or less. (Higher-trim models may cost more.) They’re ranked within the car size by the starting price.

The starting price listed is the least-expensive version in the range of years, assuming that the vehicle is in good condition with typical mileage and that it’s sold by a private party. The prices were provided by Kelley Blue Book.

Prices are rounded to the nearest $100 and reflect Kelley Blue Book New-Car Fair Purchase Prices as of April 28, 2022, for the least-expensive trim level that qualifies for the recommendation. If a particular options package is needed, the manufacturer’s suggested retail price for that package has been added to the price.

For complete road tests, reliability, owner satisfaction, pricing, and much more, click on the model names below.

Model (year range)

Starting price


Ford C-Max Hybrid (2014-2015)


Mazda 3 sedan or hatchback (2014 or newer)


Chevrolet Volt (2014)


Subaru Impreza sedan or wagon (2015, 2018-2020)


Toyota Corolla hatchback (2019 or newer)


Honda Insight (2019 or newer)


Subaru Crosstrek (2018 or newer)



Subaru Legacy (2013 or newer; built after August 2012)


Subaru Outback (2013 or newer; built after August 2012)


Volkswagen Passat (2015, 2017)


Mazda 6 (2014-19)


Toyota Prius V (2015-17)


Lincoln MKZ (2015 or newer)


Volvo S60 (2018)


Audi A6 (2016-19)



Toyota Avalon (2015 or newer)


Hyundai Genesis (2016)



Mazda CX-5 (2014 or newer; built after October 2013)


Honda CR-V (2015 or newer)


Chevrolet Equinox (2017)


GMC Terrain (2017)


Hyundai Kona (2018, 2021)


Mazda CX-3 (2019)


Volvo XC60 (2017)



Ford Edge (2015, 2020; built after May 2015)


Nissan Murano (2015 or newer)


Lexus NX (2015 or newer)


Hyundai Santa Fe (2017-19, built after March 2016)


Toyota Highlander (2014 or newer)



Toyota Sienna (2015-18)


Kia Sedona (2017)


Honda Odyssey (2017, 2020 or newer)


More from Consumer Reports:
Top pick tires for 2016
Best used cars for $25,000 and less
7 best mattresses for couples

Consumer Reports is an independent, nonprofit organization that works side by side with consumers to create a fairer, safer, and healthier world. CR does not endorse products or services, and does not accept advertising. Copyright © 2022, Consumer Reports, Inc.


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