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IIHS Issues Recommendation Report for Safest Used Cars for Teen Drivers

Being a parent with a teenage driver inevitably causes anxiety, especially when it comes to choosing which car will be safest for them to drive. Because of a teen driver’s lack of experience and budget restrictions, many parents opt to purchase cars that are used and older in model year. Often, these vehicles lack adequate and crash protection and safety technology, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

According to the IIHS report, in a national phone survey conducted for IIHS of parents of teen drivers, 83% of those who bought a vehicle for their teenagers said they bought it used. To assist parents in choosing a safe car for their teenagers, the IIHS recently compiled its first-ever list of recommended used vehicles that don’t break the bank.

Some findings from the IIHS’s report:

Among 500 parents who were surveyed, 43 % reported that the vehicle their child currently drives was purchased around the time he or she began driving. Mini-cars or small cars were the most commonly purchased type of vehicle, with 28% buying from this category. More than 50% of newly purchased vehicles were from the 2006 model year or earlier. That’s a problem because older vehicles are much less likely to have safety features such as electronic stability control (ESC) and side airbags.

Teenagers who drove a vehicle that the family already owned were even more likely to drive an older vehicle: 2/3 of those parents said the vehicle was from 2006 or earlier.

A separate IIHS study shows that teenagers killed in crashes are more likely than adults to have been behind the wheel of small vehicles and older vehicles. Among fatally injured drivers ages 15-17 in 2008-12, 29% were in mini-cars or small cars, while 20% of fatally injured drivers ages 35-50 were. 82% of the young teen drivers were in vehicles that were at least 6 years old, compared with 77% of those in the adult group.

The IIHS’s recommendations on teen vehicle choice are guided by 4 main principles:

1. Young drivers should stay away from high horsepower. Vehicles with more powerful engines can tempt them to test the limits.
2. Bigger, heavier vehicles protect better in a crash. There are no minicars or small cars on the recommended list. Small SUVs are included because their weight is similar to that of a midsize car.
3. ESC is a must. This feature, which helps a driver maintain control of the vehicle on curves and slippery roads, reduces risk on a level comparable to safety belts.
4. Vehicles should have the best safety ratings possible. At a minimum, that means good ratings in the IIHS moderate overlap front test, acceptable ratings in the IIHS side crash test and four or five stars from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

In the survey of parents, the average purchase price for a teen’s vehicle was about $9,800, while the median was just $5,300. There are many options on the recommended list for under $10,000, but just 3 that cost less than $5,300.

All the recommended used vehicles have standard ESC and provide good protection in moderate overlap front crashes. Those considered “best choices” for under $20,000 also have good ratings for side crash protection, good head restraints and seats for rear crash protection, and good roof strength to protect occupants in rollover crashes. Vehicles considered “good choices” for under $10,000 have good or acceptable side crash protection and head restraints rated better than poor. Prices on the best choices list start at $7,300, while the cheapest good choice is $4,000. It should also be noted that the IIHS and NHTSA did not consider high-horsepower vehicles when compiling this list. Only vehicles with a 4-star rating and above were included on the list.

RECOMMENDATIONS (Prices based on Kelley Blue Book value):

BEST CHOICES under $20,000 include:

LARGE CARS: Model year 2010 and later Saab 9-5 sedan (price $17,500); model year 2009 and later Lincoln MKS (price $15,500); and model year 2010 and later Buick LaCrosse (price $12,900).

MIDSIZE CARS: Model year 2012 and later Toyota Prius V (price $19,100); Model year 2009 and later Mercedes-Benz C-Class sedan ($16,000); model year 2011 and later Kia Optima ($13,300)

SMALL SUVs: Model year 2012 and later Honda CR-V ($18,100); Model year 2009 and later Volkswagen Tiguan ($10,200); Model year 2007 and later Honda element ($8,900)

MIDSIZE SUVs: Model year 2010 and later Volvo XC60 ($18,000); Model year 2010 and later Ford Flex ($15,100); Model year 2010 and later Chevrolet Equinox ($13,700)

LARGE SUVs: Model year 2011 and later Buick Enclave ($19,900); model year 2011 and later GMC Acadia ($17,800); model year 2011 and later Chevrolet Traverse ($16,600)

GOOD CHOICES under $10,000 include:

LARGE CARS: Model year 2005 and later Acura RL ($9,700); model year 2009 Kia Amanti ($9,500); model year 2009 Ford Taurus ($9,100)

MIDSIZE CARS: Model year 2009 Subaru Legacy ($9,900); model year 2006 and later BMW 3-series sedan ($9,300); model year 2006-2008 Volkswagen Passat ($5,100)

SMALL SUVs: Model year 2008 and later Nissan Rogue ($9,800); model year 2009 and later Ford Escape ($8,700); model year 2009 and later Mazda Tribute ($8,100)

MIDSIZE SUVs: Model year 2007 and later Mazda CX-9 ($9,800); model year 2007-2010 Ford Edge (9,600); model year 2008-2009 Saturn Vue ($7,700)

MINIVANS: Model year 2009-2011 Volkswagen Routan ($8,600); model year 2008-2011 (8,100); model year 2005-2010 Honda Odyssey ($6,700)

(This list is not comprehensive and does not include all models included on the IIHS’s list.)

The IIHS recommends that parents who don’t find a suitable vehicle from either list should seek out a midsize or larger car, an SUV, or a minivan with the most safety they can afford. Besides ESC, specific things to look for in a used vehicle are side airbags and low horsepower. Parents should also keep in mind that SUVs and pickups are particularly risky when not equipped with ESC because they are the most prone to rollover crashes. For the full IIHS list and article click here.

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