BUYER’S GUIDE: Safe and Affordable Back To School Vehicles That Make Sense

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Publications that promote small, expensive cars for students are out of touch.  Here’s your real list.

With the new school year approaching, parents will be filling up shopping carts with pens, pencils, disinfectant wipes, EPI pens, and cars. Students can and do drive themselves to school, and most other car publications is going to tell you that you, as a loving parent, should buy your son or daughter a teensy weensy little new car.

Baloney. Here is a common sense list of great used cars that are size, budget, and safety appropriate for your student driver.

2007 Ford Crown Victoria. (06/21/06)

Big, Cheap and Available: Under $5K

If you have a limited budget and want to put your son or daughter in a vehicle that gives them a fighting chance in an accident (that they are likely to cause), then think big.

BestRide happens to have among its staff  an aficionado of classic iron. Last year, Craig Fitzgerald created a guide to some classic and affordable cars and he even posted up the death rate for each. He leans towards the Ford Crown Victoria, aka the familiar police and taxi car.

Throw a ski rack on the roof, and cars will form a wake ahead of you on the highway trying to get out of the way of the “cruiser” coming up behind them. Kidding aside, these cars are big, tough, and available in huge numbers. BestRide shows listings for Crown Vics ranging in price from about $2K to $5K and a few are actually decommissioned cop cars. One big advantage of the Crown Vic is that your mechanic isn’t going to need expensive parts or hard to access tools to fix it.

avalon old green

Reliable, Safe, and Available: Under $10K

Looking for a good used older car? You want grandma’s old car. Mine drove an Avalon. Yours may have had a Ford Taurus. Big cars with stability control, side airbags, and a gentle owner are golden, and if you can find one you know has had the service done it can bring long life with few repairs.

Try to find an Avalon from 2005 or newer, but the older ones can be more affordable. BestRide has used Avalon listings from 2006 and 2007 under $9K. If possible, get the horrible green color shown in the photo above. It will help make sure nobody ever steals it.

taurus 08

The Taurus you want is from the 2008 model year on. The car became bigger after that year. On BestRide, you will find 2009 Taurus cars starting at under $7K.

Safe, Pre-Owned, Much Loved, and You’ll Want To Keep It For Yourself: $10K and Higher

If your son or daughter is responsible and has had some driving experience, they may be ready for a compact crossover. Yes, these cars are small relative to the others on our list, but they generally weigh as much as an Accord or Camry, and with AWD, they will have a proven real-life safety advantage. Wheels TV forms a panel of the most experienced automotive experts in New England each year. Once they have those writers, repair shop owners, and editors locked inside a dark room they don’t let them out until they agree upon one single vehicle that is the best Pre-Owned Vehicle (called the POV of the year).

When the white smoke appeared in the chimney the last two times, the picks were both compact crossovers. In 2015, the POV of the Year winner was the 2006-2012 Toyota RAV4 AWD. Still a top-selling crossover, the RAV4 AWD has a good reputation for reliability and safety. The RAV4 AWD’s real-world death rate of 19 is roughly half that of some other popular compact crossovers. Good condition RAV4s in these model years are widely available and listed at BestRide from roughly $8K to $14K.

MY14 Mazda CX-5

The most recent Wheels TV POV winner was the 2013-2014 AWD Mazda CX-5. Like the RAV4, the CX-5 is a fun to drive, practical crossover. The CX-5 may have the edge on looks and handling compared to the older RAV4 above. BestRide has 2014-2015 CX-5s listed in the $12K to $20K range and some are still covered under the Mazda new car warranty.


Skip the brand new tiny subcompact new cars for your son or daughter. They simply are not as safe in real-world conditions as larger cars and crossovers. From a financial standpoint, they will also bring higher hidden costs for taxes and insurance. If you want a great car or crossover to get your son or daughter back and forth to school think bigger, proven, and pre-owned.

Looking for a new or used car? Check out’s local search here.