131 safest & affordable used models for teen drivers

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If your dealership has a potential buyer looking for a vehicle for a teenage driver, there’s a good chance one of the 49 “best choices” or one of the 82 “good choices” selected by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) is likely in your inventory.

There are 131 models on these lists even though the federal agency said it applied more stringent criteria to its list of recommended used vehicles for teens.

IIHS shared its latest update on Wednesday, including those 49 “best choices” that have a cost starting below $20,000, and 82 “good choices” that have a cost starting below $10,000. The agency highlighted recent safety improvements have percolated down to lower-cost used cars, SUVs, minivans and pickups.

Federal officials acknowledged teenagers are among the riskiest drivers, but they often end up with inexpensive vehicles that don’t offer adequate protection in a crash. To help families find safer vehicles that fit within their budgets, IIHS began publishing a list of recommended used vehicles for teens in 2014.

For the first time this year, small overlap front crash protection has been factored in for the best choices section of the list. And the bar has been raised for the less expensive good choices as well, with better side and head restraint ratings required.

“Just as we are always updating the criteria for our awards for new vehicles, Top Safety Pick and Top Safety Pick+, we can now point used vehicle buyers toward even safer models than before,” said David Zuby, IIHS executive vice president and chief research officer.

“Good crash protection is more affordable than ever, so there’s no need to skimp on safety when it comes to a vehicle for a young driver,” Zuby continued.

Prices for listed vehicles are provided by Kelley Blue Book, based on estimates for a private-party purchase near the Institute’s Arlington, Va., headquarters.

“Choosing a safe vehicle for your teen is of paramount importance, and settling on a vehicle your family can afford is also very important,” said Jack Nerad, executive editorial director and executive market analyst for Kelley Blue Book.

IIHS listed a few basic principles that the agency said should always be taken into account when shopping for a vehicle for a teenager; a rundown that could help dealerships guide their customers toward the vehicle that fits them best:

—High horsepower and young drivers don't mix. Teens may be tempted to test the limits of a powerful engine. Vehicles that come only with powerful engines have been left off the lists, but some recommended models have high-horsepower versions. Stick with the base engine.

—Bigger, heavier vehicles are safer. There are no minicars or small cars on the lists. Small SUVs are OK; they weigh about the same as a midsize car.

—Electronic stability control is an essential feature. This technology, which cuts single-vehicle fatal crash risk nearly in half, has been required on new vehicles since the 2012 model year. It helps a driver maintain control on curves and slippery roads. All listed vehicles have the feature standard.

“Beyond those basics, parents should seek out a vehicle with the highest crash test ratings they can afford,” IIHS said.

“Models on this year’s good choices list earn good ratings in the Institute’s moderate overlap front, side and head restraint tests,” the agency continued. “Vehicles on the best choices list must also have a good rating for roof strength to protect in rollover crashes and a good or acceptable rating in the small overlap test, which replicates what happens when the front, driver-side corner of a vehicle strikes another vehicle or an object such as a tree or utility pole.

If rated by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), vehicles on either list must earn 4 or 5 stars overall or 4 or 5 stars in the front and side tests under NHTSA's old rating scheme, which was used through the 2010 model year.

All of the vehicles highlighted by IIHS can be found here.

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