New or Used: Discouraging Teenage Hoonery…or Not?

Sajeev Mehta and Steve Lang
by Sajeev Mehta and Steve Lang
new or used discouraging teenage hooneryor not


Evan writes:

Hi Sajeev and Steve,

I’m looking to find a safe car in the $5 to $7k area to serve as a teenager’s first vehicle. My wife and I want to make sure the kids are safe. We have 4 children, so we’re looking for 4 doors. The kids will be paying for the gas, so we’re probably looking for a 4-cylinder sedan for the mileage…plus, we hope that an 8 to 11 second 0-60 time will slightly discourage hoonery (though it didn’t when I was 16). Trouble is, used car values are so high right now that not many cars seem to fit the bill. Where is the “best” safety and reliability trade-off between the cars that hold value well (accord, civic, camry, corolla) and those that are newer/ lower mileage? Can you, Steve, and the B&B help?



Steve Answers:

When it comes to the $5k to $7k range it’s not the car that’s truly important, it’s the prior owner.

There are Camrys and Accords that are as wore out as an old mop. Along with thousands of ‘unpopular cars’ that have been diligently maintained and well kept.

Your goal should be to find a reliable and safe car that is at least a midsize. Brand doesn’t matter so much. Yes there are specific models that are stinkers (any Chrysler with a 2.7L for instance). But if you go to owner review sites that have qualitative feedback such as Carsurvey and Edmunds, you should be able to thresh them out of the mix pretty quick.

I would start with family, friends and work. Find out if anyone has a good candidate and then apply the process that I outlined in my car buying series at TTAC. When it comes to car buying you need to rely on experts because a lot of expensive issues an be well hidden. Get the vehicle independently inspected and consider even going to an enthusiast site to find out what potential issues may be down the road once the vehicle checks out.

This is one of those times in life where investing in a professional and doing diligent research will likely pay off in ways far beyond ‘money’. If you invest in ‘the process’ and the people, your return will pay off in the long run. Be patient and enjoy doing something good for your kid.

Sajeev Answers:

I will default to Steve Lang when it comes to cheap family sedan analysis, he knows the market better than anybody. My only word of caution is to avoid the “hot” brands in this economy, I don’t believe the value proposition is strong enough. In your budget, I rather like the Nissan Altima for comfort and economy. But I would encourage you to forget about fuel economy for a moment, and look at any GM W-body product (my fav is the Oldsmobile Intrigue), something truly despicable like a Chrysler Sebring, or an old body style Vulcan V6 Taurus/Sable…cuz those Duratec V6s are too damn fast for kids!

Most teenagers don’t fall in love with their first car, unless they got lucky and had a (vintage) 1965 Ford Galaxie hardtop as their first whip. I still miss that car. Your kid shouldn’t wind up like me, and minimize your cash outlay right from the start. I’m likin’ me some Olds Intrigue right now…the kids might actually appreciate it too!

Need help with a car buying conundrum? Email your particulars to , and let TTAC’s collective wisdom make the decision easier… or possibly much, much harder.

Join the conversation
2 of 135 comments
  • Rpn453 Rpn453 on Aug 22, 2011

    I became a safer driver as I became more calm and patient, and also as I learned to increase my distance from other vehicles as much as possible. I've always been attentive behind the wheel but also very aggressive. The high performance driving school I attended for four days? That just made me more confident at driving at the limit, which I do more regularly now. I doubt I'm less safe after the course, but I also doubt that I'm more safe. I do have more fun driving now, and the course itself was the most fun I've had in my adult life. Don't even think about not doing the extra day with the Formula Mazda Race Cars!

  • Philosophil Philosophil on Aug 22, 2011

    I agree with Pch 101. Driver education (learning how to see ahead and around you, learning to predict how other drivers will behave, avoiding potentially dangerous situations or driving hazards--e.g., blindspots, distracted drivers, semis, and so on) is far more important for driver safety than advanced driver training. Jack's article above is a good example of that (including Rocketrodea's excellent comments).

  • MRF 95 T-Bird Back when the Corolla consisted of a wide range of body styles. This wagon, both four door and two door sedans, a shooting brake like three door hatch as well as a sports coupe hatchback. All of which were on the popular cars on the road where I resided.
  • Wjtinfwb Jeez... I've got 3 Ford's and have been a defender due to my overall good experiences but this is getting hard to defend. Thinking the product durability testing that used to take months to rack up 100k miles or more is being replaced with computer simulations that just aren't causing these real-world issues to pop up. More time at the proving ground please...
  • Wjtinfwb Looks like Mazda put more effort into sprucing up a moribund product than Chevy did with the soon to be euthanized '24 Camaro.
  • Wjtinfwb I've seen worse on the highways around Atlanta, usually with a refrigerator or washer wedged into the trunk and secured with recycled twine...
  • Wjtinfwb Surprising EB Flex hasn't weighed in yet on it being the subject of a recall...