Teen Cars Craig

5 Better “Best Cars For Teens”

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Do a Google search for “Best Cars for Teens.” We’ll wait.

Are you back? Good.

All of those lists are crazy, with cars that cost more than the house you grew up in. There are safe, reliable options for kids that won’t cost you $25,000.

Our pals over at Car Talk are having a debate about whether it’s appropriate to buy a 16 year old a car. My parents were cheap old Yankees, and even they helped me buy my dad’s old Camaro. I had to pay them back for half of its value. At $3.35 an hour, it took me until well after I’d crashed that car into a telephone pole to settle up.

Teen Cars Craig
Cool Van Halen shirt, bro!

So, yeah, it’s appropriate to get your kid some kind of transportation, unless you (A) want to be driving them all over creation for the rest of your life or (B) trust somebody else’s idiot kid to drive better than your idiot kid.

But the advice a lot of sites are giving on what to buy seems crazy. Some of the results page on Google using the search term “Best Cars For Teens” offer the following recommendations:

Bankrate.com: Price cap at $23,000

IIHS.org: Price cap of $20,000

Forbes.com: Under $12,000

About.com: Up to $25,000 for the rear-drive, two seat Subaru BRZ

Now I don’t know about you, but I’m plowing all the money I can into a 529 plan, dropping a Bentley payment every month in after-school programs, early morning dropoff and ski club, and let’s forget about Christmas shopping for a moment. I’m not about to spend 25 stacks on a car that will probably end up looking like it hit everything but the lottery.

If you’re Bill Gates, by all means, spend lavishly, but for the rest of us with jobs, mortgages and an ever ballooning health care commitment every year, there’s a balance to be struck.

Without getting maudlin, there’s safety to consider, too, so we’re going to look at the overall death rate in cars in 2008, according to the IIHS. The overall death rate for 2008 model year cars (around the time you start getting a smoking deal on a used car), was 48 deaths per million registered.

It’s true that if you buy a newer car for your teen, you lower the overall death rate to 28 deaths per million miles traveled, on average, but there are models in the 2008 model year that are comparable to 2011 models, that are much less expensive.

Here are several options that will provide safe, reliable transport for your kids that gets statistically close to the overall death rate of a newer car:

2008 Crown VictoriaFord Crown Victoria

Average price: $5,100
Overall Death Rate (2008 or equivalent): 33 per million miles traveled

Ah, the venerable Crown Vic and its cousin, the Mercury Grand Marquis. They’re as reliable as a claw hammer, later models were equipped with plenty of airbags and decent seat belts, and anybody with an 10mm wrench can figure out how to fix them if they do break. Yes, police associations complained that when they were struck from behind at more than 100 miles an hour, they burst into flame. If it was a rampant problem for everyday drivers, half of the Nanas and Pepes in Del Boca Vista would be burned to a cinder.

RELATED: AAA Video Shows Teens Driving – and Crashing — At Their Most Distracted

2008 Chrysler 300Chrysler 300

Average Price: $11,000
Overall Death Rate (2008 or equivalent): 38 per million miles traveled

Like the Ford Crown Victoria, the Chrysler 300 is the kind of car you can probably get for free when you can finally pry the keys out of great-grammy’s fingers. There’s a fuel economy bonus if she bought the six versus the V-8. They’re available by the millions and they’re often in super condition.

2008 Toyota Camry SolaraToyota Camry Solara

Average Price: $9,500
Overall Death Rate (2008 or equivalent): 27 per million miles traveled

The Camry Solara is every bit as reliable as its sedan cousin, but on some trims, the top comes off, which should be at least somewhat appealing to kids. Yes, usually when you see a head sticking out of a Camry Solara, the hair on it is blue, but be that as it may, these are reliable, safe, decent automobiles that you could put any kid behind the wheel of for less than $10k.

2008 Toyota SiennaToyota Sienna

Average Price: $8,500
Overall Death Rate (2008 or equivalent): 0 per million miles traveled

Let’s forget all the arguments about whether or not a kid is going to think a minivan is cool. If you’re looking to put your kid in the safest car you can afford, why wouldn’t you choose one that has recorded ZERO deaths per million miles traveled? The odds of Junior hurting himself behind the wheel of a minivan are tiny. The odds of him finding a girl to make out with him in a Toyota Sienna are barely measurable. Win-Win.

2008 Ford EdgeFord Edge

Average Price: $9,500
Overall Death Rate (2008 or equivalent): 0 per million miles traveled

Again, the Ford Edge might not be the most appealing vehicle on the face of the planet for a teen, but there’s no arguing with the price — which is more than reasonable for an all-wheel drive SUV — and there’s no disputing the risk reduction when you drive a car that has recorded zero deaths per million miles traveled between 2006 and 2009, according to the IIHS.

If you’re truly interested in your teen’s safety behind the wheel, by all means, don’t spend money on the car, spend it on a driving safety course. Throughout the country right now, Kia is offering a FREE course for teens, putting them behind the wheel and teaching them evasive maneuvers, how anti-lock braking and stability control work and much more. Enroll your teen in this or a course like it today.

Oh, and we hear you: “But what if they won’t drive anything but a brand-new Subaru WRX STi,” you ask. The appropriate response is “Buy it when you get a job. Until then, here’s a bus pass.” That Grand Marquis will start looking pretty good.

Craig Fitzgerald

Craig Fitzgerald

Writer, editor, lousy guitar player, dad. Content Marketing and Publication Manager at BestRide.com.


  1. isn’t the idea to protect the kid and society from themselves and any ideas they were the next Jeff Gordon? A large, safe bank vault on wheels like the Sienna ought to work better than the tons of salt peter shipped to troops in the world wars, right? Agreed, the shoe leather express or a bicycle are quite green, responsible and affordable alternatives.

  2. These are all safe, sane options for younger drivers. My first car was a 1979 Chevrolet Caprice Classic given to me by my parents. While it certainly didn’t score points for sportiness or style, it was a safe ride built like a tank. It was totaled in a near head-on collision, but I came out of it not wearing a seatbelt with only a few bumps.

  3. If you have a daughter, get her whatever lame Honda Civic or Toyota Corolla that she wants.

    If you have a son, get him an OLD CAR. Preferably a pre-computer era car. He will learn how to work on it and spend more time trying to find the correct parts for it than actually driving it! It will become a hobby just as much as a means of transportation. In some circles, he would be King Hipster of the School if he showed up in a 70’s AMC Matador or Blue Brothers car i.e. 1974 Dodge Monaco. If he rat rods it out to look just like the Bluesmobile, he could get any chick he wanted!

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