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Smiling Teenager in Car

Safest Cars for Teens Under $11,000

updated: Aug 24, 2021 –

When shopping for a car for their children, most parents find it challenging to find a car that offers optimal safety features that doesn’t break the bank. Unfortunately, many parents end up buying their children cars that lack important safety features, or even worse, give their children hand-me-downs that have even less safety features in order to save money. In the quest to find teens a reliable car, parents should keep in mind the age of the car, safety features and crash test ratings in order to provide their teens with the safest vehicle.

“Our advice to parents would be to remember the risks teens take and consider paying a little more,” says Anne McCartt, Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) Senior Vice President for research.

IIHS’s Video on Safe Cars for Teens

How to Pick a Safe Car

The IIHS provides a small list of crucial recommendations for parents thinking of buying their teen a vehicle for the first time:

  • Don’t buy your teen a vehicle with high horsepower; they will be more inclined to speed and drive recklessly in a powerful car.
  • Look for a mid-sized sedan or a small SUV instead of compact cars so that your teen will have more protection in a crash.
  • Electronic stability control is crucial for a beginning driver; ESC allows your teen to maintain control of the car on tight curves and treacherous roads.
  • Vehicles should have the highest safety rating possible – good ratings in the IIHS moderate overlap front test, acceptable ratings in a side crash test and 4-5 stars from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Luckily, the IIHS released a list of cars under $20,000 that met their safety rating requirements and had the lowest trim level to keep prices affordable (see references¹). You can usually find these cars nationwide by doing a search on Google, in local online classifieds listings, or searching through Kelley Blue Book.

Acura, Honda, Toyota, and Mazda are great choices for a teen’s first car because they have consistently high reliability ratings, wonderful crash test ratings, longevity, and if you get a model 2005 or higher, usually have safety features to protect your child in the event of a crash. You can also find great deals on many models due to popularity, and these are sold nationwide at many dealerships. However, you can also find them sold through private parties as well if you check local listings in your newspaper or online.

According to a national phone survey conducted by IIHS, 83% of parents who bought a vehicle for their teenager said they bought it used. Of the 500 parents surveyed, 28% bought compact cars as their child’s first vehicle. A different IIHS study concludes that teenagers killed in crashes are more often driving small cars and older cars than adults who are involved in fatal in crashes. This is a trend that needs to be reversed.

Keeping your teen safe should be a top priority, and you can help ensure that by providing them with a sturdy, reliable vehicle. The reasons why compact cars and top-heavy SUVs should be avoided are because compact cars don’t offer as much protection as larger sedans, and big SUVs without ESC are prone to rollovers, especially on sharp turns and curves. Also, you should look for vehicles with side curtain air bags, and avoid convertibles since they offer little to no roof protection in the event of a rollover crash.

Safe Cars Under $11,000

Generally speaking, the more expensive a car is, the better its safety will be. However, if your budget is tight, here are the ten IIHS “best choices” recommendations for used cars that will be kind to your savings account.

Mazda 3 sedan or hatchbackCompact2014 or newer; built after October 2013$8,100
Toyota PriusCompact2014 or newer; built after November 2013$8,600
Subaru OutbackMidsize2013 or newer; built after August 2012$8,700
Subaru LegacyMidsize2013 or newer; built after August 2012$8,800
Ford TaurusLarge2014$9,600
Mazda CX-5SUV2014 or newer; built after October 2013$9,300
Nissan RogueSUV2014, 2016-18, 2020$10,100
Mazda 6Midsize2014 or newer$10,100
Lincoln MKZMidsize2013, 2016, 2018 or newer$10,300
Honda Accord sedan or coupeMidsize2013 or newer$10,900

*Keep in mind, if you buy a car on the lower end of the price scale, it will also cost a lot less to purchase full coverage auto insurance as well.

Do You Have a Higher Budget?

If you have enough savings in the bank to spend a bit more, here are the “best choices” for used cars that are above $11,000, but still below $20,000.

Volkswagen PassatMidsize2016-17$11,400
Toyota Prius vMidsize2015-18$11,600
Volkswagen JettaMidsize2017$12,900
Subaru ForesterSmall SUV2016 or newer$13,500
Chevrolet EquinoxMidsize SUV2017, 2019$13,700
Toyota SiennaMinvan2015-16$13,900
Volvo S60Midsize2016, 18$14,100
Honda CR-VSmall SUV2015 or newer$14,800
Kia SportageSmall SUV2017, 2018, 2020$14,800
Nissan MuranoMidsize SUV2015 or newer$14,800
Toyota RAV4Small SUV2015 or newer; built after November 2014$14,900
GMC TerrainMidsize SUV2017, 2019$15,100
Hyundai Elantra GTCompact2018 or newer$15,200
Honda HR-VSmall SUV2017 or newer; built after March 2016$15,400
Honda OdysseyMinvan2016$15,400
Kia SedonaMinvan2017$15,600
Hyundai KonaSmall SUV2018 or newer$15,800
Lexus NXMidsize SUV2015-16, 2018 or newer$16,000
Buick EncoreSmall SUV2018-19$16,300
Kia SorentoMidsize SUV2017-18$16,500
Hyundai TucsonSmall SUV2018 or newer$16,800
Mazda CX-3Small SUV2019 or newer$17,800
Subaru CrosstrekCompact2017 or newer$17,900
BMW 3 seriesMidsize2017 or newer; built after November 2016; 4-cylinder only$17,900
Honda InsightCompact2019 or newer$18,200
Toyota Prius PrimeCompact2017 or newer$18,200
Toyota Corolla hatchbackCompact2019 or newer$18,300
Kia NiroCompact2019$18,600
Hyundai GenesisLarge2016$18,700
Hyundai Santa FeMidsize SUV2017-19; built after March 2016$18,700
Volvo XC60Small SUV2017$19,200
Subaru ImprezaCompact2019$19,400
Ford EdgeMidsize SUV2018 or newer$19,600
Mazda CX-9Midsize SUV2017 or newer; built after November 2016$19,600
Audi Q5Midsize SUV2016-19$19,800

Final words…

Buying your teen his or her first vehicle can be stressful, but by keeping in mind the precautions listed above and knowing there are affordable options out there, it should not be difficult finding a safe for car your teen that fits your family’s budget. Keeping your teen safe doesn’t have to come at an unaffordable price; there are many mid-sized cars on the market for under $20,000 that can provide adequate protection to your teen and give them reliable transportation.

  1. Source / IIHS –