Graduation: a right of passage for youth and a day of pride for their parents. Other rights of passage for kids include learning to drive and, eventually, getting their own car. Maybe you're a parent looking to reward your child with a used set of wheels for university or college, or maybe you're a young driver looking to spend your meagre savings on a reasonably priced used car. Here are a few choices that rate high on safety – important for mom and dad – and take into account lower purchase prices, good fuel economy, reliability and better insurance rates.
The Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla are the go-to cars for students; they're plentiful and renowned for safety, reliability and fuel mileage. You could start around the 2009 model years for something a little less than $10,000. That's a good benchmark for pricing. Kia and Hyundai are worth a look, too as they can be found for less than the Hondas and Toyotas. The Volkswagen Golf adds a European flair and the versatility of a hatchback, and can be had in the same price range, though its reliability doesn't generally rate as high as the Asian choices. The diesel version, however, would be more reliable and gets far better fuel economy, but watch out for the Golf GTI; its higher horsepower means more fun but also higher insurance premiums.
Larger sedans, such as the Ford Taurus or Honda Accord, would be safer than smaller cars in a crash. These get decent fuel economy and can generally be had in the same price range as the smaller cars, but would your teenager really want to show up in the school parking lot in a four-door family car?
For something a little different, the quirky Scion xB offers the versatility of a smaller SUV while still keeping the power and fuel economy low. It has excellent reliability and safety ratings, according to Consumer Reports.
Feel like saving the earth? Even the electric hybrid Toyota Prius falls in the same general price range, and rates extremely well in IIHS crash testing and overall dependability. The only problem is that people hold on to these cars longer, so they might be hard to find.
And remember, more horsepower generally means worse fuel economy and higher insurance rates.
Your kid doesn't have to suffer with an uncool car. The Subaru Impreza has a history of World Rally Championship racing that would impress most sub-20 boy racers, but the tamer street versions are actually practical cars. It's never been the best for fuel efficiency in its class, but that's partly because it comes standard with AWD, which would help a younger driver keep control, especially in tricky winter driving. Speaking of safety, the Impreza continually tops the IIHS Top Safety Picks for crash testing and air bags. It also has proven bullet-proof reliability. Stay away from the hot WRX versions, as those come close to an actual race car in power and performance, which means costly insurance premiums.
Larger trucks and SUVs do not make good cars for inexperienced drivers. Many people think they are safer, but they are more likely to tip and roll in a crash than a sedan, and their increased weight is more difficult to control at higher speeds or in less-than-ideal driving conditions. These bigger vehicles usually have higher horsepower; again, not good for drivers with not much time behind the wheel.
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