A red convertible with razamatazz hubcaps may be your kid’s dream car, but a car’s safety rating is the most important feature of a vehicle for your high school or college student. Yes, it’s even more important than reliability, fuel economy or even the size of a car. If you are buying a new or used vehicle for your back-to-school teen, check the vehicle’s safety rating first.
Both the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) and the federal National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) conduct detailed independent crash testing for both frontal and side impact. The top score IIHS gives is “good.” The top score NHTSA gives is five-star.
Even if a vehicle gets a top safety rating, the experts at Edmunds.com recommend avoiding the smallest cars, which offer less protection than larger models with the same safety rating. The advice is to opt for a mid-size sedan, coupe or wagon rather than a hulking SUV, which inexperienced drivers may have more difficulty handling. That translates into safety, too.
Look for models with stability control, a safety feature that helps correct small mistakes inexperienced drivers often make, to keep the vehicle from swerving into an accident. Stability control is mandatory on all models beginning with the 2012 model year, but is not always found on low-cost or entry-level models from previous years. Anti-lock brakes also are now mandatory, and have been widely available in virtually all models for several years.
Edmunds recommends these models for back-to-school teen drivers or college drivers:
- Honda Accord: 2009 and 2012 models.
- Toyota Camry: 2009 and 2012 models.
- Chevrolet Malibu: 2010 and 2013 models.
- Volkswagen Jetta: 2010 and 2012 models.
- Hyundai Sonata — 2010 and 2012 models
When buying used, be sure to check a vehicle’s repair and maintenance history, because a well-maintained vehicle is likely to have fewer mechanical problems, which can be inconvenient at best, life-threatening at worst.
As I wrote on ecoXplorer, get a vehicle history report, such as from CarFax, which will tell you the accident and repair history, whether the vehicle was part of a rental or corporate fleet, and more. Many used car dealers provide such reports to prove the car is a good deal.
It’s also a good idea to sit down with your teen and review safe driving habits. An excellent interactive resource is the State Farm Teen Driver Safety website, with videos and 3D games to re-inforce good habits without preaching.
Photo courtesy of Chevrolet