How to Find the Best, Safest Vehicle For A Teenager?

Is your teenager ready for their own car?

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Having their own wheels is one of the greatest thrills for many teens. If you’re looking to buy a car for your teenager, a lot of questions arise. How do I find the right car? What should I look for? How do I know it’s safe? How do I set rules and guidelines for my independent child?

It’s a big subject, but here I’ll walk you through the most pressing issue: how to choose a car.

This is a question we deal with a lot at Capital Motor Cars, and our team has long experience helping parents and teens find the perfect vehicle. After you read this, feel free to head over to one of our leasing offices for expert, personalized support through every step of the process.

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What to look for in a car for a teenager

Safety is the #1 priority when choosing a car for your teenager. After all, car accidents are the leading cause of death nationwide for teens aged 16-20, and in New Jersey, teens are the demographic group most involved in crashes.

Many teens, of course, will push for something fast and flashy as their first car, but that’s exactly what they don’t need.

You’ll want something safe, reliable and easy to drive.

Midsize sedans, with their weight and low center of gravity, are generally the safest in a crash.

Choose a smaller engine (four cylinders instead of six) to make speeding less tempting.

The car should have anti-lock brakes and the more airbags, the better. Six is the minimum (two in front, two side-impact and two side-curtain).

Ideally, your teen’s car should be equipped with the latest safety features. Many cars now offer amazing options to keep their drivers and passengers safe. Even some futuristic car technologies are available these days.

  • Electronic stability control: ESC helps a car maintain traction in extreme situations, like when swerving to avoid a collision or when a sharp turn has been misjudged. This became a government-mandated standard feature in all cars in 2012, but it’s found in some cars since 2010.
  • Curtain airbags: Protecting the head in the event of a side-impact crash, curtain airbags reduce driver deaths in these accidents by 40%.
  • Forward-collision warning: Forward-collision warning systems use radar to detect immanent crashes and warn the driver while there’s still time to act.
  • Automatic emergency braking: Going one step further, cars with AEB will first alert the driver and then hit the brakes themselves if the driver’s response isn’t enough.
  • Lane departure warning: Sounds an alarm when the car crosses over a lane divider line.

Just comparing features doesn’t give you a full picture of how safe the car actually is. For this, you’ll have to see how it performed in regulated crash tests. Check the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s full ratings to see how any vehicle measures up, and only choose a car with the highest possible safety rating.

Reliability is another important factor to consider. No-one wants a car that’s in and out of the mechanic shop, but for a young driver, it’s especially important that the vehicle is as dependable as possible.

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According to Consumer Report, Toyota is the brand with the most reliable cars in 2018. Close behind are Lexus, Kia, Audi, BMW and Subaru.

No matter what the brand, if you buy used be sure to get the car thoroughly inspected by a mechanic before buying.

Cars to avoid

Now we’ve covered what to look for, what should you look to avoid?

In general, don’t give your teen driver too much power under the hood. Fast cars with turbocharged engines are too much for an inexperienced driver to handle.

Your teenager doesn’t need to go from 0 to 60 in four seconds or hit 120mph on the highway. Having a car that can do this will encourage reckless driving.

A carload of friends will be a huge distraction to a teen driver and usually invites them to show off behind the wheel, often with dangerous consequences. For this reason, SUV’s, pickup trucks and minivans are not good first cars for most teens. Not only are they difficult to control in emergency situations, these vehicles are just asking to be filled up with a bunch of friends.

Older model cars might lack some important safety features, so if you buy used make sure it as all the essentials.

Finally, avoid cars that are prone to flipping over in an accident. This includes large SUV’s, minivans, and the Jeep Wrangler among other models. Any car could potentially flip, but tall and narrow vehicles are generally offer less traction and stability.

Best cars for teenagers in 2018: choices for every budget

When you start shopping for a car, the first question is, new or used?

New cars have the advantage of coming loaded with safety features. Even the most highly certified car from 2000 lacks many of the developments required by today’s standards. In fact, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, a 5-star crash rating from before 2011 can’t be compared to the same rating in 2018.

Safety technology that was once considered high-tech luxuries is now common on entry-level cars: ESC, collision-warning systems, adaptive cruise control and advanced seat belts among others, as well as many more airbags than once were the norm.

If you want to buy or lease a new car for your teenager, here are some top choices:

  • Mazda 3 (starting at $18,095 – Lease from $199/mo.)
  • Hyundai Ioniq hybrid ($22,200 – Lease from $225/mo.)
  • Chevrolet Sonic ($15,145 – Lease from $179/mo.)
  • Honda Fit ($16,190 – Lease from $189/mo.)
  • Subaru Legacy ($22,195 – Lease from $199/mo.)
  • Toyota Camry ($23,495) – Lease from $189/mo.)

Now, all this said, buying a used car also has its advantages.

If you buy a model from the last few years, it will probably have many of the same safety features as a 2018 model, but without the new-car price tag.

Giving your teenager the keys to a sturdy, reliable used car, rather than a showy new vehicle, also reduces some of the unhealthy ego inflation that young drivers are prone to. It can be an opportunity for a lesson on humbleness, practicality, and valuing function over external appearances.

Basically, if you can get a relatively recent car that meets today’s safety standards, there’s no reason to splurge on a brand-new vehicle for a new driver.

Some highly recommended cars to buy used for your teenager:

  • 2011 Buick LaCrosse (average $12,935-16,871)
  • 2012 Chevrolet Malibu ($11,635-14,403)
  • 2010 Toyota Prius ($10,348-12,495)
  • 2011 Ford Taurus ($12,044,16,202)
  • 2012 Honda Accord ($12,707-17,670)

These cars are all solid, reliable vehicles with good gas mileage and high safety ratings.

The next question to ask is, how about leasing?

Leasing a car for a teenager isn’t always the best idea. Their driving habits are unpredictable, which doesn’t fit well on a fixed-mileage lease contract. You can expect some scratches, bent fenders and other minor damage as the kid gets used to driving: no problem on a cheap leased car, but it can cost you big on a high end leased vehicle.

However, some car dealers offer short-term leases, which can make sense for a teenager who will go off to college in a year.

You may browse through some of our cheap cars to lease specials, to find an affordable and short-term leasing solutions.

If you want to know more about leasing, or help finding the perfect car for your teenager, contact Capital Motor Cars. The expert team there guarantees the best deals on a huge range of cars. They will handle all the technical, time-consuming work of comparing models and find just the options that are right for you.

Know the law

New Jersey has some of the strictest laws regarding teen drivers (from 16-20 years old) of any state. These include:

  • No driving from 11pm-5am
  • May only transport one passenger, unless accompanied by a parent or guardian
  • Cannot use a cell phone or wireless device, even in hands-free mode
  • Driver and passengers must wear seat belts
  • Must display GDL (Graduated Driver Driver License) decal on the car

These restrictions might seem very limiting but they’ve gone a long way to reduce traffic deaths in New Jersey.


Getting a first car is an exciting rite of passage for a teenager. It’s a whole new world of both freedom and responsibility.

At Capital Motor Cars, we make it easy to find the right car for your teenager: something safe, reliable, affordable and fun! Call today to get started.


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