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Aug 082012
 August 8, 2012  Posted by  Cars, Money
2011 Chevrolet Cruze side impact crash test

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 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 

Evelyn Kanter

Evelyn Kanter is an award-winning journalist who has been reporting on good deals and warning about bad ones, for longer than she cares to admit publicly. A native and lifelong New Yorker, she was the first consumer reporter for CBS News and for WABC TV “Eyewitness News” and helped launch the “Sales and Bargains” column in New York Magazine. Evelyn is the author or editor of more than a dozen travel guidebooks and apps, including Peaceful Places New York City, and owns and operates NYC On The Cheap and EcoXplorer. A long-time tree-hugger, Evelyn also writes about green travel, green cars and saving the green in your wallet for national and regional publications, including a column syndicated by Motor Matters and for, AAA magazines and airline inflights.

One comment on “Best cars for back-to-school teen drivers

  1. Samantha on said:

    “The advice is to opt for a mid-size sedan, coupe or wagon rather than a hulking SUV” ….

    please pay attention to that statement!! the most frightening experience i’ve ever had driving was living outside of plano, tx (north dallas to you non-texas people) surround by a bunch of spoiled teens gabbing on their phones while driving their brand new hummers. and this was before texting. please think about the safety of the person your kid might hit in addition to your child’s safety. don’t set them up to kill someone.