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Safety first: The best used cars for teen drivers



teen driver with keysLooking to buy the safest used car for your teen? The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) said this week that parents should start by thinking big and heavy over small and speedy.

In a new study, the IIHS found that teenagers killed in crashes are more likely than adults to have been driving older, smaller vehicles, many without safeguards like side airbags. The report notes that 29 percent of 15- to 17-year-olds who died from 2008 to 2012 were driving mini-cars or other lighter, smaller vehicles. That compares with 20 percent of older drivers (35 to 50) who were killed during the same period at the wheel of similar cars, according to the IIHS.

Also, 82 percent of young teens who died were driving cars that were at least 6 years old. In contrast, 77 percent of those in the adult group were driving older vehicles when killed in highway accidents.

Clearly, when handing the keys over to your teen, you want to focus on safety first, but also be sure to research insurance discounts for teens to help mitigate the increase to your car insurance rates.

It's no wonder insurance companies put teens in the high-risk bucket. Government figures show that 16- to 19-year-olds have the highest crash rate of any group, with the numbers climbing during the peak motoring months in summer. And the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which uses statistics gathered from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and other federal sources, says that seven teens died every day on U.S. roads in 2010.

The IIHS acknowledged that many families can't afford to buy their teen a new and larger vehicle loaded with more advanced safety features. The Institute surveyed 500 parents and found that 83 percent bought used cars, with more than half choosing a model from 2006 or earlier. Parents cited high vehicle costs as a prime factor in their decision.

"Unfortunately, it's very difficult to get a safe vehicle for a teenager at the prices most people are paying," Anne McCartt, IIHS senior vice president for research, said in a written statement. "Our advice to parents would be to remember the risks teens take and consider paying a little more."

With that in focus, the IIHS released a list of bigger, safer used vehicles that cost anywhere from below $5,000 to nearly $20,000, which it deemed affordable. They range from a 2012 Toyota Prius v (about $19,100) to a Ford Escape (2009 model and later, about $8,700) to a Kia Sedona (2006 and later, about $4,600).

The Institute said four principles should be paramount when buying a car for a teen:

  • High horsepower may seem sexy but it should be avoided. "Vehicles with more powerful engines can tempt (young drivers) to test the limits," according to the IIHS.
  • Go for heavy and big - they're safer in a crash. "There are no mini-cars or small cars on the recommended list" of vehicles for teens, notes the Institute. "Small SUVs are included because their weight is similar to that of a mid-size car."
  • Electronic Stability Control (ESC) is a must. This feature, which helps a driver maintain control on curves and slippery roads, is about as good at reducing risks as safety belts, says the IIHS.
  • 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," according to the Institute.

There are also insurance benefits with a car having good safety ratings and features. Lynne McChristian, a spokesperson for the Florida branch of the Insurance Information Institute, says teenagers are costly to insure because of their high accident rate. But, she adds, insurers are likely to be influenced by the vehicle's overall safety profile when determining a base coverage rate.

Here are many of the IIHS's top recommendations in several vehicle categories under $20,000, with prices based on recent Kelly Blue Book listings:

Large Cars

  • Saab 9-5 sedan (model 2010 and later, about $17,500)
  • Lincoln MKS (2009 and later, $15,500)
  • Buick Regal (2011 and later, $13,500)
  • Ford Taurus (2010 and later, $13,500)
  • Buick LaCrosse (2010 and later, $12,900)

Mid-sized Cars

  • Toyota Prius v (2012 and later, $19,100)
  • Mercedes-Benz C-Class sedan (2009 and later, $16,000)
  • Honda Accord sedan (2012 and later; coupe 2013-14, $14,400)
  • Audi A4 (2009 and later, $14,300)
  • Toyota Camry (2012 and later, $14,300)

Small SUVs

  • Honda CR-V (2012 and later, $18,100)
  • Kia Sportage (2011 and later, $13,800)
  • Hyundai Tucson (2010 and later, $13,100)
  • Subaru Forester (2009 and later, $12,800)
  • Mitsubishi Outlander Sport (2011 and later, $12,000)

Mid-sized SUVs

  • Volvo XC60 (2010 and later, $18,000)
  • Saab 9-4X (2011-12, $17,800)
  • Toyota Highlander (2008 and later, $17,100)
  • Toyota Venza (2009 and later, $15,900)
  • Ford Edge (2011 and later; built after February, 2011, $15,500)

Large SUVs (only three recommendations)

  • Buick Enclave (2011 and later, $19,900)
  • GMC Acadia (2011 and later, $17,800)
  • Chevrolet Traverse (2011 and later, $16,600)


  • Chrysler Town & Country (2012 and later, $18,100)
  • Honda Odyssey (2011 and later, $17,100)
  • Toyota Sienna (2011 and later, $16,400)
  • Dodge Grand Caravan (2012 and later, $15,200)
  • Volkswagen Routan (2012, $14,000)

IIHS top recommendations for vehicles under $10,000:

Large Cars

  • Acura RL (2005 and later, about $9,700)
  • Mercury Sable (2009, $9,700)
  • Kia Amanti (2009, $9,500)
  • Ford Taurus (2009, $9,100)
  • Audi A6 sedan (2005 and later, $8,300)

Mid-sized Cars

  • Subaru Legacy (2009, $9,900)
  • BMW 3-series sedan (2006 and later, $9,300)
  • Mazda 6 (2009 and later, $8,900)
  • Saturn Aura (2009, $8,800)
  • Acura TL (2004 and later, $7,900)

Small SUVS

  • Nissan Rogue (2008 and later, $9,800)
  • Ford Escape (2009 and later, $8,700)
  • Mazda Tribute (2009 and later, $8,100)
  • Mitsubishi Outlander (2007 and later, $6,300)
  • Suzuki Grand Vitara (2006 and later, $5,600)

Mid-sized SUVS

  • Mazda CX-9 (2007 and later, $9,800)
  • Ford Edge (2007-10, $9,600)
  • Hyundai Veracruz (2007 and later, $9,600)
  • Hyundai Santa Fe (2007-10, $8,900)
  • Honda Pilot (2006 and later, $8,800)


  • Volkswagen Routan (2009-11, $8,600)
  • Dodge Grand Caravan (2008-11, $8,200)
  • Chrysler Town & Country (2008-11, $8,100)
  • Honda Odyssey (2005-10, $6,700)
  • Hyundai Entourage (2007-08, $6,300)

Safeguarding teens -- and trimming costs to insure them

McChristian says parents can take a few steps to help teenagers be better drivers while also cutting premiums. Most companies, she points out, offer discounts if you:

  • Have the teen take a driving course. Young drivers who pass accredited classes can qualify for discounts of up to 5 percent. McChristian notes that many insurers accept online courses as well as those in the classroom.
  • Sign a "parent-teen driving contract" with your teen. In the contract, the teen promises not to text while driving, drive at night or with friends in the car. Many insurers will give a small discount of less than 5 percent with proof of the contract.
  • Get credit for your teenager's good grades. McChristian says students with at least a "B" average usually qualify for discounts, which can reach 5 or 10 percent.

Raising the deductible -- from $250 to $500 or $1,000 -- is another way to reduce premiums. But, of course, you'll have to pay the higher deductible if the vehicle is damaged.

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