August 12, 2022

ONB-AUTO

Nuts about Car

Best Used Cars for Teens Under $20,000

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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.

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

SMALL CARS

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

$6,000

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

$7,100

Toyota Prius (2011 or newer)

$8,100

Chevrolet Volt (2013)

$8,800

Toyota Corolla sedan (2014 or newer)

$10,900

Lexus CT200h (2012-13)

$11,100

MIDSIZED CARS

Toyota Prius V (2012-14)

$8,500

Toyota Camry (2012 or newer)

$9,400

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

$9,900

Volkswagen Jetta (2016)

$10,900

Ford Fusion (2015, 2018)

$12,200

BMW 3 Series sedan (2016)

$14,500

Nissan Altima (2017, 2020)

$14,700

LARGE CAR

Ford Taurus (2011)

$6,300

Hyundai Genesis (2011)

$6,900

Toyota Avalon (2011-14)

$9,400

SMALL SUVS

Nissan Rogue (2014-20)

$11,000

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

SMALL CARS

Ford C-Max Hybrid (2014-2015)

$8,400

Mazda 3 sedan or hatchback (2014 or newer)

$8,700

Chevrolet Volt (2014)

$10,500

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

$11,000

Toyota Corolla hatchback (2019 or newer)

$18,700

Honda Insight (2019 or newer)

$19,800

Subaru Crosstrek (2018 or newer)

$19,900

MIDSIZED CARS

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

$8,300

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

$8,800

Volkswagen Passat (2015, 2017)

$10,400

Mazda 6 (2014-19)

$10,800

Toyota Prius V (2015-17)

$12,400

Lincoln MKZ (2015 or newer)

$13,200

Volvo S60 (2018)

$19,100

Audi A6 (2016-19)

$19,400

LARGE CARS

Toyota Avalon (2015 or newer)

$15,700

Hyundai Genesis (2016)

$18,100

SMALL SUVS

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

$10,200

Honda CR-V (2015 or newer)

$14,900

Chevrolet Equinox (2017)

$15,600

GMC Terrain (2017)

$16,000

Hyundai Kona (2018, 2021)

$18,100

Mazda CX-3 (2019)

$19,200

Volvo XC60 (2017)

$19,400

MIDSIZED SUVS

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

$12,900

Nissan Murano (2015 or newer)

$14,700

Lexus NX (2015 or newer)

$16,700

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

$17,800

Toyota Highlander (2014 or newer)

$17,800

MINIVANS

Toyota Sienna (2015-18)

$14,700

Kia Sedona (2017)

$15,200

Honda Odyssey (2017, 2020 or newer)

$17,100

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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