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The best cars for teen drivers


While keeping your teen safe is your top priority, you also have to find a vehicle that is both affordable and reliable. Car insurance for young drivers is expensive, and unless your day job is car salesperson, finding the perfect car for a teen is often difficult.

We are here to help.

Carinsurance.com has compiled a list of recommended used cars that should make your job a bit easier. These cars will keep your teen safe without breaking the family budget.

The vehicles below meet our requirements:

  • They cost less than $15,000.
  • They are rated as an Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) Top Safety Pick.
  • They keep fuel costs low with an EPA rating of at least 20-mpg combined.
  • They score better than average when it comes to annual repair visits according to TrueDelta.com.
  • Since safety is a huge factor for teen drivers, all of our vehicles are 2012's with electronic stability control (ESC) as standard equipment. ESC helps drivers regain control of a vehicle during a slide and can be a real lifesaver. According to Anne McCartt, senior vice president for research at the IIHS, ESC is a must. "Parents should never consider any vehicle that doesn't have electronic stability control," she said.

Here are the used cars that made the grade, along with their average cost according to Edmunds, and the annual policy cost (best and worst) for an 18-year old who is buying their own insurance coverage:

Make and Model

Cost of Car



Lowest Quote

Highest Quote


Honda Civic LX






Kia Soul






Subaru Legacy






Toyota Prius 3






VW Jetta SE






Chrysler 200 4-door






Honda Fit






Hyundai Elantra






Ford Fusion






Nissan Cube






Subaru Impreza 2.0






Toyota Camry SE






Hyundai Tuscan 2wd






*Fewer visits is better.

Choosing the right car for teens: Safety first, then price

What your teen is looking for in a car and what you want them driving are often two different things.

Boring is the way to go, according to Penny Gusner, consumer analyst with Insure.com. "Parents need to look for a boring, used car with lots of safety features. You want a car that the teen isn't going to drive beyond their skills. Sedans are popular choices for novice drivers."

After safety, most parents are looking for affordability. Our list includes a wide variety of price points, ranging from $9,600 up to the full $15,000 limit. The recommended vehicles range from a smaller car, like the Honda Civic, all the way up to the Hyundai Tuscan SUV.

McCartt likes the bigger cars for teen drivers. "When thinking about safety, parents may focus on features like the number of airbags, but a key part of crash protection is a vehicle's size and weight. Bigger, heavier vehicles are more protective in crashes than smaller, lighter ones," explains McCartt.

Sports cars are an obvious no-no. Teen drivers don't need the horsepower. "When buying a used vehicle for a teen, there are a few things you shouldn't compromise on," says McCartt. "Avoid high-horsepower vehicles that can encourage risky driving."

Now it's time to look at one of the biggest cost factors, insuring your teen.

Teen drivers: Car insurance rates for four scenarios

While you certainly love your teen, there is a good chance your insurer will not. Car insurance for young drivers, whether you add them to your policy or they get their own, is always expensive. Teens bring stacks of risk to the table and insurance companies will charge you for that risk.

According to the IIHS, a total of 2,823 teens died in car crashes in 2012. While this is a 68 percent drop from 1975 (thank airbags, ESC, and other safety features) it is still too many fatal accidents. Males are especially dangerous, accounting for two out of every three teen drivers killed.

These depressing stats are a major reason for your impending premium increase. "Parents will normally see their car insurance bill double when adding a teen," says Gusner. "A premium increase of anywhere from 100 to 200 percent is common."

Let's look at the numbers and see just what a teen will do to your rates.

Meet the Smith family. Abby (the mom) is 40, has a spotless driving record and is the primary driver of a 2015 Toyota RAV 4 LE. Jack (the Dad) is a bit older at 45, also has a spotless driving record and cruises around town in a 2010 Honda Accord LX.

The best full coverage quote we could find for Jack and Abby was $1,788 a year, while the most expensive premium clocked in at $3,216. The difference is a whopping $1,428, which clearly illustrates the fact that insurers rate risk differently, and shopping your coverage on a regular basis is extremely important.

Keep in mind that while this list highlights the rate differences between cars, it does not necessarily reflect what your household will pay for car insurance. Your rates could be lower or higher. The biggest factors that affect your premium are your ZIP code and your teen's driving record.

Watch what happens when we add Abby and Jack's 18-year old son Steve to the policy.

Assign the teen to your policy: The best rate we could find was $3,756, more than double their previous rate. The worst rate we came across was a budget-busting $6,444, a shocking 350 percent increase from the lowest quote without Steve.

Buy the teen a late-model used car: If Jack and Abby feel that Steve needs his own car and put him in a late model-vehicle, such as a financed 2012 Toyota Corolla, the lowest yearly premium jumps to $4,800, while the highest rate was almost $8,000 a year.

Buy the teen a beater car: Now let’s stick Steve in a beater. Adding a 2008 Ford Taurus (liability coverage only) to the family policy drops the rate a bit, but not as much as you would hope. The cheapest quote was $4,400.

Giving the teen his own beater car and policy: Kicking Steve off the family policy, keeping him in that 2008 Ford Taurus with only liability insurance drops his premium to $2,544. But when the original $1,788 (Jack and Abby's insurance) is added in, the annual cost to insure the family is back up to $4,332, so not a big money saver.

All of these numbers make one thing very clear, teens are expensive to insure, and frequently shopping your coverage can save you a ton of money.

Safety and car insurance tips for teen drivers

You can't escape the price hike that adding a teen to your policy brings, but it is possible to minimize the damage. Here are a few tips from industry experts:

Be a role model. "A well-trained driver is the most important safety feature in any car," says Doug Herbert, founder of Put On The B.R.A.K.E.S. "Practice frequently with your teen driver and be a good role model behind the wheel."

Teen-driver course discounts. "Ask your insurer if there are discounts for a driver's education course or if they have a teen program," says Gusner. "Farmers' program is called YES and State Farm has Steer Clear," continues Gusner.

Buy umbrella coverage. "Consider an umbrella liability policy," says Loretta Worters, with the Insurance Information Institute (III). "In our litigious society, you may want to have an extra layer of liability protection. For about $150 to $300 per year, you can buy a $1 million personal umbrella liability policy," explains Worters.

Student discounts. Tell Junior to keep his grades up. "Your child can garner a discount if they maintain at least a B average. The discount usually runs from 5 to 15 percent," says Gusner.

Raise deductibles. Jacking up your deductible can also be a money saver. "Going from a $250 to $500 or $1,000 deductible can shave 10 to 20 percent off of your premium," says Worters.

Policy adjustments for college. Finally, when your teen goes to college, your rates may finally start dropping. "When your teen heads off to college, you may be eligible for lower premiums, provided the car stays behind. Many insurers will reduce rates for students attending a school at least 100 miles away from home who do not have a car on campus," says Worters.


Insurance rates are for an 18-year-old male in ZIP code 80104 (Castle Rock, Colorado) commuting 20 miles each way to school, with no accidents or violations. Coverage includes $100,000 bodily injury liability (up to $300,000 per accident) and $50,000 in property damage liability, $10,000 in personal injury protection and comprehensive and collision coverage with $500 deductibles.