The day your teenager becomes a driver is stressful enough for any parent. In 2009, some 3,000 teens were killed in automobile accidents and 350,000 were injured, according to the Centers for Disease Control. So what they drive shouldn't add to the worry.
Some teens will inherit the family car, while a few may be treated to something new (or newer). The good news for parents on the hunt for a safe and well-equipped used car is that great options abound. In compiling this list, we chose a price point of $15,000 to ensure that the cars met parameters typically set by parents, including multiple airbags, anti-lock braking systems, and other safety features that bring peace of mind.
"Safety, fuel efficiency and running costs are often big factors for the parents we see," says John Brooks, the third-generation general manager of San Francisco's long-running used car dealership, Brooks Ellis Auto Center. Brooks counsels parents to look for the newest car they can afford, as some may still be under warranty. He also suggests four doors over two (lower insurance premiums) and automatic transmissions (less for the new driver to worry about).
As with any used automotive purchase, favor cars with the least signs of abuse and the most complete maintenance records. Forthwith, we proffer nine cars that any parent would be proud put the kids in, and another that's more in the realm of childhood fantasy:
2000-2001 Porsche Boxster
And last but not least... So you say your prodigious offspring just got a full ride to Harvard? Or maybe you lost some first-car-discussion bet back with the kid was 10 and now you're on the hook for something really out there? A well-maintained (pampered and loved) early Boxster dishes up dazzling performance and poise that can rival a newer Porsche costing five times the price.
2005-2006 Ford Escape Hybrid
If you happen to be an SUV-loving family, this is one option that won't suck parental coffers dry at the pumps. With its hybrid engine, the four-cylinder Escape delivers around 30 mpg in the city and on the highway. Although this car got a sheetmetal overhaul a few years ago, its mechanical underpinnings remain essentially unchanged from its 2005 debut. Buying used also means you can often find premium options such as navigation and premium stereo at essentially no extra cost.
2005-2006 Subaru Outback
Skiing families know all about the four-wheel-drive prowess of the Subaru line. So if your teen plans to hit the slopes solo, the Outback wagon is one of the most affordable-dependable rides around thanks to its battle-tested four-cylinder boxer engine and sure-footed foul weather manners. Large enough to fit friends and gear alike, the Outback also enjoys a dedicated fan base that will snap the car up when you're ready to sell it.
2006-2007 Volvo S40
Volvo has always been synonymous with safety, often touting advances in areas such as frame integrity, air bag technology and blind-spot sensors far ahead of the competition. This particular model has the added benefit of bucking the Swedish company's homely-car tradition. Around 2004, the S40 got a make-over that rounded out its flanks and turned it into a genuinely stylish machine whose five-cylinder engine will deliver solid gas mileage at a leisurely pace.
2006-2007 Mercedes-Benz C230
Let's face it, some folks are die-hard European-car buffs, and for them this option from the metalsmiths in Stuttgart provides an affordable way to keep a young loved one in the family auto fold. Look for the Sport model with its 201-hp V6, which will help new drivers merge into the flow of highway traffic with ease. Safety and trim quality are typically solid Mercedes fare. As with any European car, the key is having as complete a service history as possible. With that, a 60,000-mile car can double that figure without too much fiscal pain.
2007-2008 Mini Cooper
True, this model bucks our four-door mandate. But simply put, the Mini Cooper is quite the little marvel, a BMW-crafted gem whose revvy four-cylinder engine provides practically hybrid-level mileage. Second, while it appears small it actually accommodates six-footers up front with ease while simultaneously providing ample room for rear passengers. The Mini also posts excellent crash safety scores that belie its physical stature.
Whatever you may think of Mazda's odd "Zoom Zoom" ad campaign, these Japanese imports do offer considerable zip and driver involvement best exemplified by the company's wildly successful MX-5 Miata. And that connection to the road will only help a new motorist settle into the art of driving. The Mazda3 is at its most practical in either sedan or Touring/hatchback configurations, with a four-cylinder engine that is as peppy as it is stingy.
2008-2009 Toyota Camry
The venerable - OK, some would say boring - Camry has been around since 1983, and it's just hard to find much fault with Toyota's four-door stalwart. With its nondescript looks and frugal workhouse of a four-cylinder engine, the Camry electronic gadgets are a kind of car that defines reliable while at the same time deflecting attention from everyone from car thieves to cops. If you're partial to other Japanese marques, Nissan's Altima and Honda's Accord fit very similar bills.
2008-2009 Volkswagen Jetta
If having your teen drive a Mercedes just screams too many of the wrong things, but you're eager for them to get a feel for that Teutonic engineering, VW's Jetta is a great intro to Euro autos. The Jetta tech gadgets have grown in larger over the decades and now accommodates rear passengers with ease, and, with its relatively docile 2.5-liter five-cylinder engine, doesn't pack the license-jeopardizing punch of the GTI.
2009-2010 Hyundai Sonata
Like a racehorse that starts at the back of the pack and slowly charges to the fore, Hyundai's tenacious battle for its share of the U.S. market is starting to pay off. The Sonata is a good example of what's right with the brand, a mid-size sedan that offers the standard complement of modern safety features, 30 mpg from its four-cylinder power plant and styling that borrows liberally from Mercedes' handsome C-class. What's more, Hyundai's well-known affordability means that fifteen large gets you an almost new car for used car money.
Briefly, all of these cars are the best gadgets for men!