Welcome, brave parents, to the exciting and not-at-all-stressful part of life in which your teen just got their driver’s license! The main attractions (for you) are: swirling visions of fender-benders, repurposing your food budget into a fuel budget, DIY auto mechanics projects that take up all your free time – you name it, you got it!

Oh, and let’s not forget all those “ever-so-subtle” hints, like playing with car keys (for no reason whatsoever), wistfully glancing at your ride (then at you, then at your ride again), and jumping at every opportunity to whip out that freshly-baked driver’s license (just to showcase it, of course, no ulterior motives at all). This is your reality now – unless or, better yet, until they get that sweet new ride. 

Jokes aside, there’s no running away from the truth: your little one is not so little anymore; they’re becoming independent and need their own car – and that’s no reason to panic. The used vehicle market is brimming with affordable cars for teens, many of which are safe, reliable, easy to use, and – dare we say it – do not take away from your young driver’s “cool factor”. 

Still, it is you who will have to make a responsible decision (and purchase). To help you in that endeavor, we’re bringing you everything you need to know about choosing the best car for teenagers in one all-encompassing guide. 

Which car is best for a first-time driver?

affordable cars for teens

When considering good first cars, you have to acknowledge two things. First, your teen is still immature, which can make them feel invincible. Second, they’re inexperienced which, in combination with the aforementioned, can make driving incredibly risky. 

With these in mind, it’s easy to conclude that the best used cars for first-time drivers are those that boast high safety as a primary trait, immediately followed by reliability and ease of use. Therefore, what you’re looking for in your teenager’s first ride is, in order of priority:

  • Advanced safety features: Above all, prioritize vehicles that sport modern safety systems such as airbags, anti-lock breaks (ABS), electronic stability control (ESC), traction control, and tire pressure monitoring.
    • Pro tip: You can (and should) check the safety ratings of vehicles on the websites of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).
  • Reliability: Next, you want a car that boasts high reliability and durability. There’s a good chance your teen won’t get out of it for quite some time, so you want to minimize the risk of breakdowns as much as possible.
    • Pro tip: Reliability ratings for numerous makes, models, and years of cars are readily available online, from reputable sites like Consumer Reports, J.D. Power, RepairPal, and similar.
  • Ease of use: The best car for a teenager is one that is user-friendly but, also, practical:
    • User-friendliness: The vehicle should offer excellent visibility from the driver’s seat, intuitive controls, and QOL features that will enhance a young driver’s comfort and convenience levels.
    • Practicality: Good first cars make it easy for your teen to maneuver around and, especially, park in limited spaces. Therefore, the vehicle size and footprint should reflect your kid’s driving capabilities.

Finally, it is crucial to address another major factor: price. While affordable cars for teens are abundant, your considerations must go beyond the initial investment to include ongoing expenses such as insurance premiums, fuel, maintenance, and repairs.

What is the safest car for a 16-year-old?

Relatively recently (May 2023), IIHS-HLDI (Highway Loss Data Institute) partnered with Consumer Reports to compile a list of the best used cars for first-time drivers. All vehicles on this list feature excellent safety/reliability ratings, meaning they’re all excellent choices for your teen driver, leaving only price as a main point of consideration.

The best cars for teens under $20,000

Vehicle ModelTypeSizeModel years 
BMW 3 seriessedanMedium2017 or newer; built after Nov 2016
Hyundai GenesissedanLarge2016
Honda CR-VSUVSmall2015 or newer
Honda HR-VSUVSmall2017 or newer; built after Mar 2017
Toyota RAV4  SUVSmall2015 or newer; built after Nov 2014
Nissan MuranoSUVMedium2015 or newer
Toyota HighlanderSUVMedium2014 or newer
Acura RDXSUVMedium2016 or newer
Toyota SiennaMinivanLarge2015-20

The best cars for teens under $15,000

Vehicle ModelTypeSizeModel years 
Toyota Prius    hatchbackSmall2014; built after November 2013
Subaru Impreza sedan/wagonSmall2018, 2022
Mazda 6sedanMedium2014-18
Subaru OutbackwagonMedium2015-18, 2022
Toyota Prius vwagonMedium2015-17
Volkswagen PassatsedanMedium2017
Toyota AvalonsedanLarge2015 or newer
Mazda CX-5SUVSmall     2014 or newer; built after Oct 2013
Mazda CX-3 SUVSmall2016, 2019
Nissan MuranoSUVMedium2015 or newer

 The best cars for teens under $10,000

Vehicle ModelTypeSizeModel years 
Mazda 3sedan/hatchbackSmall2014-20; built after October 2013
Ford C-Max HybridwagonSmall2014-16
Subaru LegacysedanMedium2013-21; built after August 2012
Volvo XC60SUVSmall   2013, 2017

The best cars for teens under $5000

If you’re on a tight budget, you’ll be happy to know that you don’t have to break the bank to buy a good first car for your young driver. However, when buying cars for teens under $5000, you’ll have to consider that these will typically:

  • Be at least 10 years old but probably more;
  • Have at the minimum 100,000 miles under them;
  • Need a lot of maintenance, both in terms of aesthetics and mechanics;
  • Newer models will be hard to find.

That said, there are some good choices here, including:

  • Toyota Camry, 2002 – 2006;
  • Toyota Sienna, 2004 – 2010;
  • Fiat 500, 2008 – 2015;
  • Ford Escape, 2001 – 2007;
  • Ford Focus, 2008 – 2011;
  • Honda Civic, 2006 – 2010;
  • Subaru Outback, 2005 – 2009;
  • Acura TL, 1999- 2003;
  • Mazda MX5 Miata, 1989 – 1995;
  • Mazda 3, 2008 – 2013;
  • Volkswagen Jetta, 2005 – 2010;
  • Volkswagen Golf, 2003 – 2008.
What is the safest car for a 16-year-old

Looking for the best car for teenagers? You’ve found it!

With B.Y.O.T. in your vicinity, cherrypicking from the best used cars for first-time drivers has never been easier – or more cost-effective! As the leading pre-owned vehicle dealership north of Cattail Marsh and beyond, we’re here to make the car-buying experience memorable for you and your young driver.

With a vast selection of safe, easy-to-operate, and reliable used vehicles that will fit your budget, you’re certain to find a perfect secondary ride for your family and an ideal first one for your teen. Get in touch with us today and discover why at B.Y.O.T., every day is the perfect day to buy a new car!