Top Vehicles for Ungrateful Whelps

Matthew Guy
by Matthew Guy

top vehicles for ungrateful whelps

Several schools of thought exist about buying a set of wheels for a teenager or new driver. Some say the youngsters should be forced to drive a knackered hand-me-down, one which builds character and won’t cost a mint when it is inevitably crashed into a tree. 

Others are of the mind that the expected tree-crashing is exactly why parents should stuff their newly licensed children into something new packing all the latest safety features. Then, in the middle ground, we find some families reaching for gently used vehicles with decent crash ratings but ones that won’t break the bank.

Whatever yer stance, Consumer Reports and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety have a few suggestions. Now, more than ever, finding an appropriate vehicle that’s actually affordable can be challenging – to put it mildly – given a hyperactive used car market and skyrocketing price tags of even the most horrid machines. This author recently saw a beige 2002 Ford Windstar with 168,000 miles priced at $9,995, fer chrissakes. So, what to do?

“As parents, we can’t control what happens on the road once our teen driver pulls out of the driveway,” says Jennifer Stockburger, director of operations at CR’s Auto Test Center. “But we do have some say in the type of vehicle they drive off in, and that can make a huge difference.” CR and the IIHS have relaxed their $10,000 price cap in recent years, thanks to the overheated market and upward cost pressures, but a goodly number of recommended vehicles still reside in four-figure territory.

Examples? Try the Mazda 3 sedan or hatchback, specifically model years 2014 to 2020, since there should be ample choices under ten grand. Same goes for a Subaru Legacy from the mid-2010s. The little Kia Soul (specifically 2013, 2017, and 2019 models thanks to survey and other scores) gets a nod, as does the stalwart Toyota Corolla from 2013 onwards. Daddy Warbucks, who may be shopping for a brand-new car, is directed towards the likes of a Mazda 3 or Honda HR-V. Check out this link for the full list.

As you’d expect from these types of data-driven organizations, the roster is a bit more than a popularity contest. In addition to other metrics, all rigs on the list have above-average reliability based on CR surveys, dry braking distances of less than 145 feet from 60 mph, top marks in four different crash tests, and stability control as standard equipment.

[Image: Mazda]

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2 of 22 comments
  • SCE to AUX SCE to AUX on May 31, 2023

    A big part of road safety is defensive driving, patience, and being alert. This means no DUI, drugs, speeding, texting, driving drowsy, weather risks, or being coaxed by your friends to do something stupid.

    Road deaths are climbing despite all the modern tech, and it's because people ignore basic principles of road safety.

    After that, the car is secondary.

    Three of my 5 kids had a car in college - a 2-year-old Sonata (paid for by child #2), a 9-year-old Sonata (paid for by child #3), and a 12-year-old Rabbit (paid for by me for child #5). Respectively, those cars are now 12 (just sold), 16 (still running), and 15 (still running).

    These cars have all been reasonably reliable. When I was in college in the mid-80s (as a commuter the entire time), I drove junk. Over the course of 2 schools and 6 years, I went through 3 cars, 2.5 engine rebuilds, major rust mitigations, and countless repairs which seemed like a weekly thing. I spent about $1000 total for all three back then, so maybe $3000 today. Think of what 3 cars you could get for $3k total today.

    But I had no money, so fixing them was all I could do. Parked outside, just getting them to start in the winter was an accomplishment. Today's cars are so much better.

    By some miracle, none of my kids has had an accident - unlike me - so I have much to be grateful for.

  • Syke Syke on Jun 20, 2023

    First generation Nissan Leaf with some decent mileage left on the battery. Good commuting transportation, definitely uncool enough to keep the teen's ego in check, and definitely not something you can do too much stupid in.

  • ToolGuy Here is an interesting graphic, if you're into that sort of thing.
  • ToolGuy Nice website you got there (even the glitches have glitches)
  • Namesakeone Actually, per the IIHS ratings, "Acceptable" is second best, not second worst. The ratings are "Good," "Acceptable," "Marginal" and "Poor."
  • Inside Looking Out "And safety was enhanced generally via new reversing lamps and turn signals fitted as standard equipment."Did not get it, turn signals were optional in 1954?
  • Lorenzo As long as Grenadier is just a name, and it doesn't actually grenade like Chrysler UltraDrive transmissions. Still, how big is the market for grossly overpriced vehicles? A name like INEOS doesn't have the snobbobile cachet yet. The bulk of the auto market is people who need a reliable, economical car to get to work, and they're not going to pay these prices.