Finding the Right Car for Your Teen

When buying a car for your young driver, it’s important to find one that’s budget-friendly, affordable to insure, and most importantly—safe.  But according to two studies conducted by the Information Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), teenagers are more likely to drive the least safe vehicles on the road, such as sports cars, subcompacts, or mini-cars.

That’s unfortunate, because DMV statistics reveal that teenagers between the ages of 16 to 19 have the highest average crash and traffic violation rates annually. Small cars, or ones with high horsepower, just increase the risk of accidents, as teens tend to drive them more aggressively.

Whether you’re considering purchasing a new or used car—safety should always be your top consideration. And in today’s market, you don’t have to break the bank to find plenty of affordable options.

Safety First

“When you’re car shopping for a young adult, you want to avoid larger SUVs or trucks which are harder to control, as well as subcompacts or mini-cars that don’t perform as well as other cars do in collisions,” says John Barton, Senior Vice President of Lending for SchoolsFirst Federal Credit Union. “It’s wiser to choose a midsized car or SUV with the best safety ratings possible.”

And what are the must-have safety features? “Side airbags and electronic stability control (ESC), which reduces single-car crashes by helping drivers maintain control on slippery or winding roads,” says Barton. “Fortunately, these come standard on most cars today and even on older vehicles.”

The Ratings Matter

To help you research cars, IIHS and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) conduct crash tests and then rate cars on their safety. This includes testing vehicles for how they perform in front, side, roll over and rear-crash tests.  You can review their findings at and IIHS also provides a list of recommended vehicles for teens, at prices ranging from under $5,000 up to nearly $20,000.  Just visit the IIHS website and search “safe vehicles for teens.”

More Education, Safer Drivers

Barton also recommends additional driver safety education, such as teenSMART, an online program that has been nationally recognized for its results. According to California DMV reports, accident rates for teenSMART drivers were 30% lower than a matched control group of students from the same high schools who didn’t take the training. There are also hands-on, advanced driving courses to teach teens how to avoid collisions. Many insurance carriers will give discounts for these courses.

The Cost to Insure

It’s no secret that insuring a teen driver can be pricey—because they pose more of a risk on the road. So be sure to take the discounts designed specifically for teens. In addition to taking a driver safety course or advanced driving training, being a good student brings another discount; these discounts vary by state, so ask your insurance provider. Purchasing the right car will also reduce premiums. For example, a used, midsized car will cost less to insure than a sports car, and newer cars with extra security features also bring discounts. And if you and your young driver agree to install an electronic device to monitor driving habits, you’ll get a discount for that.

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Extra Credit provides general information to help improve our Member’s financial lives. Every situation is different, so please contact us for guidance on your specific needs. The advice provided in Extra Credit is not intended to serve as a substitute for speaking to a loan representative, financial advisor, or BALANCE counselor who can help tailor a solution for you.

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