Once your teen driver has license in hand, one of your first decisions will certainly be what car will she have access to. Will your teen be sharing the family wagon or will she be needing her own car? If you decide another car is the most logical and practical option, your next decision is what kind to get. Should you get one of the new economy cars such as a Hyundai or Kia, or perhaps a used vehicle? A new economy car offers the advantages of standard safety features that probably include dual air bags and possibly passive restraint seatbelts. You and your teen will also enjoy knowing that all equipment works and/or is under warranty. You will also have your choice of options, equipment and colors. Working against the new car choice is the fact that small, light cars do not perform well in crash tests. Also, depreciation is greatest on a new car.
A quality used car, on the other hand, offers the advantages of more features for less money. Additionally, you can get a larger and therefore safer car for about the same amount of money as a new econobox. However, dual or driver-side-only airbags may not be standard equipment. You are also at the mercy of the market in your area, limiting model type, color and optional features you may or may not want to pay for. With a used car, you run the risk of equipment not working and having no warranty. You can buy a “certified” used car for a premium price.
This author’s recommendation is to absolutely, positively avoid the SUV craze for your teenager. With their high center of gravity and the increasing evidence that this causes roll-over accidents, SUVs are too much of a danger to an inexperienced driver. A simple error in over-correction could lead to a roll over.
For the best safety value, consider a new or used mid-sized sedan. For teen drivers, most family’s finances will certainly limit this to the used car market. You can find a good quality used sedan for the same price as a new economy car while not sacrificing safety. Think Accord, Camry or Taurus. Many of the late-90s model sedans are sporty enough to not be an embarrassment for an image-conscious teen to drive. While they are larger, they are not so large as to be a challenge for a new driver to maneuver. Be sure to check the car’s crash test performance and its overall reliability. Try the Consumer Reports used car guides, which outline most makes and models by year and rates reliability and safety. Also see the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s crash test ratings and recall notices. These can be found on the web for free at https://www.nhtsa.gov.
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