How to Choose a Car for a New Teen Driver

If your teen is approaching the time when they’ll be a driver, there’s a lot to think about. You have to consider their ability to get their license first and foremost.

Before a teen can drive there are learner’s permit requirements, which can vary depending on the state you live in, and of course, they’ll have to get their license as well. Many states have different steps in the provisional license process, so that’s something to consider.

Then, there are the logistics of getting insurance, and beyond that, what about a car?

Not every teen driver will get their own car, but some parents decide it’ll be worth the cost, especially if their teen can help them with things like errands or dropping off younger siblings.

When your teen is a new driver, you want a car that’s not too costly and is safe and reliable. The following are some tips to help you choose a car for a new teen driver.

Safety Ratings

Safety is probably at the forefront of your mind if you have a teen who’s about to hit the road on their own. Choosing a safe car is an important priority, and one of the best ways to determine the safety of a car is by looking at the crash tests. Crash tests look at different simulated collision scenarios and indicate how protected passengers are likely to be in each.

Safety ratings can also look beyond crash tests and take into account how well a car will handle in certain conditions and how long it takes to come to a complete stop.

Resources to check out in terms of car safety ratings and details include:

  • The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) uses crashes of vehicles that go into walls and hits them from the side to determine the protective abilities of the vehicle. The NHTSA tests also look at the job vehicle restraints do including seatbelts and airbags.
  • There are also different tests performed by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety to look at how well the structure of a vehicle might protect occupants.
  • Consumer Reports is another excellent resource to check before buying your teen a car. Consumer Reports features the annual auto issue which assigns ratings to vehicles about safety. Consumer Reports safety tests look at crash test results combined with other factors like braking and acceleration.

General Rules for Safe Vehicles

There are some overall rules to follow for safe vehicles. First, don’t choose a car with a powerful engine for a teen driver. You should look for heavier and larger cars because in general, they are safer.

An SUV that’s too big might have its own set of risks, however. A good middle ground for newer teen drivers tends to be mid-sized sedans or mid-sized SUVs. Small compact cars increase the risk of injury if your teen is an accident, while the larger SUVs on the market are more likely to experience roll-overs because of the high center of gravity.

Research from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory found that for teen, male drivers under the age of 25, vehicles least likely to cause fatal injuries in accidents were mid-sized sedans. On the other hand, the vehicles most likely to lead to fatalities with other conditions the same were sports cars, luxury cars, pick-ups and subcompact and compact cars.

A specific feature to look at in a car for your teen driver is something called electronic stability control, which is a feature that helps drivers stay in better control on curvy roads as well as slippery roads. Other safety features that can be valuable for any driver but especially less experienced drivers include rear-view cameras and blind spot detection.

Some parents will go with a cheaper model car that then allows them to upgrade when it comes to extra safety features.

New or Used?

Finally, there are pros and cons to both new and used cars for teen drivers. New cars may be more expensive, but some of the pros include the fact that maintenance costs are likely going to be lower, and they will have the most modern and updated safety features.

At the same time, financially a new car might not make the most sense. A vehicle is a depreciating asset, and a new car loses value more quickly than a used car. Also, if you get your teen a new car, the insurance costs are probably going to be more than they would be with a used car. Teen drivers are more likely to acquire scratches and dings on their vehicle as well, so an older car may make more sense in that area.

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