The Perfect Car for a Teenager

Last Updated May 28, 2009 12:06 AM EDT

Here's the challenge: My editor wants an economical and reliable car for his teenage daughter. His budget tops out at $9,000. But here's the catch: his 17-year-old likes to roll in style and a Kia or Hyundai simply won't do.

Since we're talking about an inexperienced driver, I think we should set some additional parameters. Considering car accidents are the number one cause of death among teenagers, safety must also be a consideration. According to Cars.com, that means the search should ideally be limited to late-model vehicles -- think 2005 or later -- since they tend to have side-impact airbags and curtain airbags, which protect the head of everyone with a window seat.

Next, a teen's car needs to be reliable. After all, no one wants to worry that his daughter is stuck on the side of the road needing assistance late at night.

Finally, I'm going to stick fuel efficiency in the mix too. I don't know too many teens who want to waste their allowance paying for unleaded to feed a gas guzzler. And I know even fewer parents who want to subsidize trips to the pump.

The results? Unexpectedly, this task turned out to be harder than I anticipated. But with a little guidance from Cars.com and some help from the auto site's used vehicle search engine, I came up with two cars that fit the bill, and a few other options that hit on some criteria but missed on others. Here are the results:

Winners:
2005 Honda Civic LX under $10,000
This is my top pick for price, reliability and safety. While it may not have the cachet of a BMW, it's nothing to sneer at. (You may be able to find a 2006 in this price range too.)

2005 Toyota Corolla around $10,000
Again, not the sexiest car around, but a vehicle Dad can feel good about. It comes in a little higher than my editor wants to spend, but with a little haggling he should be able to bring this price down.

Worth Consideration:
2005 Ford Explorer XLT under $10,000
It won't win any fuel efficiency or reliability awards, but teens love SUVs and this one comes in at the right price. Although the Kelley Blue Book value is around $13,000, I saw many Explorers advertised for less than $10,000.

2006 Scion XA around $10,000
It's youthful and cheap. But don't expect this ride to drive as well as a typical Toyota.

2005 Volkswagen Jetta under $10,000
It's cute and readily available at the right price point. Trouble is, it also ranks below average on vehicle reliability.

Think I missed any great cars for teens? Please share your recommendations.

OK Used Cars image by KB35, CC 2.0.
  • Stacey Bradford

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