If you’re planning to buy your teen son or daughter their first vehicle — rather than let them work a retail job to save up for a rusting heap — the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety wants a word.
There’s good and almost-as-good choices for used cars out there, and none of them are a ’95 Cavalier with a blown suspension and more fluid leaks than the Bismark. While the IIHS top picks pack piece of mind for parents, kids might cringe at the less-than-sexy choices.
About 83 percent of Americans who buy their kid’s first vehicle head straight to the used market, IIHS claims. $2,000 to $2,000 can buy some pretty sweet rides, but because safety is IIHS’ bible, there’s a distinct lack of vehicles suitable for impromptu drag races.
To keep Bryanna and Brayden safe, the institute recommends a large vehicle with modest horsepower and an all-important four- or five-star crash rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. “Good” ratings in the IIHS moderate overlap front, side and head restraint tests also factor into the choices.
In the “best” category, the list of vehicles under $20,000 contain all the models you’d expect to see an aspiring accountant salivate over. In the full-size field, the Toyota Avalon (2015 and newer) and Volvo S80 (2007 and newer) top the list, with the more desirable 2013 (and newer) Infiniti M37 and M56 rounding out the list.
The low end of the midsize car category includes the 2011 and newer Dodge Avenger and Chrysler 200. Your kids might thank you for the purchase when they’re about 35, following years of hindsight.
Other decent vehicles include late-model variants of the Kia Optima, Ford Fusion, Honda Accord, Mazda 6, Hyundai Sonata, Subaru Legacy, Volkswagen Jetta and Passat, Chevrolet Malibu, and a host of others. So sensible, so safe.
In the small SUV category, there’s plenty of vehicles eyebrow-raising choices for a 16- to 19-year-old. They include the Fiat 500x, Chevrolet Trax, and everyone’s favorite soccer mom grocery getter, the Toyota RAV4. Again, IIHS doesn’t pay any mind to image, just safety. Also on the list are both Mitsubishi utility vehicles, the Honda CR-V, Subaru Forester, Hyundai Tucson, Nissan Rogue, and the Mazda CX-3.
Midsize SUVs run the gamut of popular sellers, though Japan seems underrepresented with only the 2015 and newer Nissan Pathfinder and Murano. America takes the hit in the pickup category, with the 2014 and newer Toyota Tundra extended cab serving as the sole entry. If your child is popular, they’ll no doubt love the commodious seating and cargo space of the late model Kia Sedona, Honda Odyssey and Toyota Sienna minivans. (None of which are as cool the the ’84 Town & Country — with stick shift — in my high school parking lot).
Turning its attention to “good” choices under $10,000, IIHS recommends a number of models that appeared on the “best” list, only older. Yes, the Avalon makes a return, joined by the 2010 and newer Buick LaCrosse. The 2009 and newer Ford Taurus remains a Duratec-powered safety cruise, while the Taurus X, Saturn Vue and Subaru B9 Tribeca join a roster of (much) more commonplace sedans and SUVs.
Nonconformists will rejoice at the list, actually. Saturn Outlook? Check. Last-generation Saab 9-3? If you can find one, it’s good to go. The same goes for 2011 and newer Nissan Quests. If a pickup is a must, Ford’s 2009 and newer F-150 crew cab models join the aforementioned Tundra in the largest vehicle category, but forget about appearing quirky.
Given the generous size of the list, there should be no problem finding a deal on a reasonably low-mileage example of one of the models. However, you’d best give your kid a choice to avoid a Walter White Jr.-in-Breaking Bad scenario.
Actually, if it’s your money, let yourself have all the say.