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December 3, 2010

News & Features

Teen choice: How to get the safest first car for your new driver

The Associated Press



Your teen is turning 16 and can't wait to get behind the wheel. For parents, though, it's time for a tough decision: What car should your child drive to be safe?

Vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death among teenagers in the U.S., according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. But don't fret too much. With a bit of homework, you can prepare yourself and your new driver to be safe, and choose an appropriate vehicle. (For a first-hand perspective, see our article by a local father who is teaching his teenage son the rules of the road.)

Vehicle suggestions
  • 120310_hyundai_sonata_06_604x372.jpg


    • Consider one of these used vehicles for your teen. Most are recommended by Consumer Reports as safe bets for new drivers. All offer good reliability and crash-test results, and come with electronic stability control and air bags. Pricing is a guideline.
    • • 2006 Hyundai Sonata, $8,500-$10,000. The Sonata (shown above) was redesigned for 2006 and has proved reliable. The 3.3-liter V6 offers a good balance of power and fuel efficiency.
    • • 2006 Hyundai Tucson, $8,500-$12,000. This small SUV uses the Hyundai Elantra's small-car platform. The V6 offers good power; the four-cylinder is a bit sluggish, but more fuel-efficient.
    • • 2007 Mazda3, $11,500-$16,000. Few small cars are as fun to drive as the Mazda3, which offers nimble handling and a good ride. However, this car is popular with tuners, so make sure it hasn't been modified.
    • • 2008 Honda Accord, $16,000-$22,000. This Accord is the perfect choice for those who want their teen in a large car. Skip the V6; the four-cylinder is sufficient.
    • -- The Associated Press

    Before you buy
    • Consider your child's maturity and temperament. Is he or she responsible enough to drive safely? Has he or she earned the privilege to do so?
    • Decide who will pay for it, as well as who will cover the cost of fuel, insurance, maintenance and parking fees.
    • Proper training is essential. Make sure the driving school you choose is fully accredited and licensed by the state Department of Motor Vehicles. Racing schools and some auto manufacturers offer more in-depth and thorough training specifically for teens.
    • Lead by example. Children will pick up your driving habits -- good and bad. "It's critical; you've got to mind your own driving habits. You are setting an example," says Jim Travers, associate editor of autos at Consumer Reports. Always wear a seat belt. Don't use your cellphone while driving. Above all, be courteous to other drivers while behind the wheel.

    What to buy
    • The starter car: Experts including AAA and Consumer Reports recommend a passenger car as a teen's first vehicle because they have predictable handling in emergency situations. "Best choice can be a hand-me-down, especially if it's the family sedan," Travers says.

    • What to avoid: At the top of the list are SUVs, pickups and sports cars. "SUVs and pickups with a higher center of gravity have a higher rollover risk and don't handle as well," Travers says. Sports cars, though more nimble, might tempt teens to test their performance.
    • Does size matter? No, Travers says. "Big doesn't equate with safe. The car is not going to be as manageable as a smaller, more nimble model. It's not going to steer or brake as well," he says.

    Look at the details
    • Safety first: Check the car's crash-test ratings, available for free online at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety ( or the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration ( On IIHS tests, look for cars with "top pick" or "good" ratings. On NHTSA tests, the best vehicles have four or five stars.
    • Key features: "Electronic stability control has been said to be the biggest safety development since the development of the seat belt," Travers says. It's been commonly available only since 2006, though. Travers also advises looking for cars with the greatest number of air bags that you can afford, as well as anti-lock brakes.
    • The bottom line: Experts agree that you should get the safest car you can afford, and don't scrimp where safety is concerned.


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