Buying A New Car For Your Teen: What You Need To Know

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Buying A Car For A Teen

Isn’t this how you see them, too? Subaru captured it perfectly: We worry about our babies behind the wheel, even if they’re old enough

What Should You Look For in a New Car For Your Teen? We Asked the Experts

If you’ve ever shopped for a prom dress or a new baseball glove with your teen, you know that a major purchase is fraught with indecision and second guesses—by both the parent and the teen. Am I spending too much? Does this look right? Will I turn heads? Buying a car for a teen or new young driver is all this and more. Usually, the parents are spending a large chunk of change, and the mom focus—safety , reliability, price—is often at odds with the teen focus: How fast does it go? How cool is it? Will it get me dates?

Buying A Car For A Teen

Chances are your teenage driver won’t be thinking about safety first, which is why you have to

We’ve reviewed some great cars for teens, including the Ford Focus, Scion xD, Chevy SparkNissan Versa Note, Ford C-Max, the Mazda 3, VW Jetta, and Ford Fiesta. For more insight on what elements parents should look for in a car for a new driver, we asked car company executives what car features they would look for in a new car for THEIR teen.

Price and Safety


Buying A Car For A Teen

2014 Dodge Dart: A great car for teen drivers

If affordability and safety are tops on your list when buying a car for a teenager, then you should definitely consider cars that make the IIHS (Insurance Institute for Highway Safety) Top Safety Pick list,” said Jeffrey Strauss, head of Dodge Brand cars. He would look at the Dodge Dart for its many safety and security features including 10 standard airbags, rearview camera and blind spot monitoring. Strauss also recommends checking out the crash rating, which is based on crash tests performed by the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Many cars offer all this for a very affordable price; the Dodge Dart starts at $16,495.

Buying A Car For A Teen

The Mazda 3 hatchback combines the brand’s great drive experience with hatchback space and function

Reliability Equals Peace of Mind

No one wants to think of their teen stuck on the side of a highway waiting for a tow truck when they could be safely in their bedroom ignoring their parents. Parents should consider safety and reliability first and foremost, said David Matthew, Vehicle Line Manager for the Mazda 3. After all,  Matthew also suggests looking at crashworthiness ratings from the U.S. government’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) tests and Top Safety Picks from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS.)

Additionally, parents should look at the safety technology that is built into the cars architecture. For instance, Mazda’s Skyactiv-Body absorbs impact energy from any direction to minimize the chance of the cabin structure being compromised. The with the 2014 model, Mazda introduced new safety systems under the umbrella name i-Activsense. These technologies use sensing devices such as milliwave radars and cameras to help support the driver in recognizing hazards, avoiding collisions and minimizing damage, should accidents occur.

Fewer Distractions Behind The Wheel

“The most important thing for parents to remember and advise their children is to limit distractions: No texting and driving. This is very important for teens especially and we can’t stress this enough,” said Daniel Gubitosa, Manager of the BMW Performance Center in South Carolina; the center offers driving classes including a teen driving program. To make this easier, having a “hands free” option in the car is a must.

BMW is well-versed in safety innovations that are great for teens. “Bluetooth is the way to go and BMW ConnectedDrive also offers features like message dictation and integration of both Apple Siri and Samsung SVoice through the vehicle’s voice command controls. BMW, like many car makers, also offer phone connectivity that lets smartphone apps, like Facebook and Twitter, be controlled from the car. But one great feature is mostly available in luxury cars: The head-up display. “It displays important information like speed and navigation instructions,” which lets the driver keep her “hands on the wheel, eyes on the road and limit distraction even further,” said Gubitosa.

One caution Gubitosa added: “We do not recommend putting new drivers in a car with too much horsepower. A great entry level BMW would be either the 2 Series or 3 Series. They are just the right size to maneuver around and great on gas mileage.” Teens will just have to dream about the M series for a few more years.

Hip, Affordable, Gas-Sippers

Buying A Car For A Teen

Scion xD’s size makes it easy to maneuver and park

Luckily for parents, many teens see responsible economical cars as desirable. Toyota has been among the car makers catering to that market with several models and even an entire line, Scion, designed for this market. “Toyota’s Scion lineup is ideal for teen drivers,’ says Toyota spokesperson Sam Butto. “With youthful styling, affordable pricing and a boatload of standard safety features,” prices are attractive, too, starting at about $16,000. For beginning drivers the Scion xD is the most affordable with excellent fuel efficiency, and its compact size makes it easy to maneuver around town and in tight parking spaces.  “And, the xD is available in both manual and automatic transmissions, which makes it a good vehicle for beginning drivers to learn how to drive a manual transmission,” Said Butto, who also touted Toyota’s Yaris subcompact and Corolla compact car.

We especially love Butto’s suggestion of teaching teens to drive a manual transmission. It teaches them to be in tune with the car, and also, no matter how much their phone’s text messaging summons, they’ll just have to wait: It’s impossible to text and shift gears at the same time.

Technology Keeps You Connected to Your Teen (And You’ll Know Where He Is)

Buying A Car For A Teen

Multiple On-Star buttons are located on the rearview mirror.

Several cars come with connectivity systems that are especially great for teen drivers. General Motors’ four brands—GMC, Chevrolet, Buick and Cadillac—all offer OnStar in-car connectivity, and Huyndai has a similar system called BlueLink. Both systems offer connection to emergency services, both when the car’s occupants push a button and when the car’s airbags deploy; geo-fencing that allows you to track a car’s location, get a text when it’s not back by curfew and to create an in-car wifi hotspot. These services are by monthly subscription and include other features that teens will appreciate too, such as turn by turn navigation.

Ford’s programable MyKey lets parents set limits on things such as speed, radio volume and low-fuel warning and can also block incoming text messages, send all phone calls to voicemail and restrict the radio’s function when seat belts are not in use.

Judy Antell, who is's Free in 50 States editor, lives in Park Slope, Brooklyn, with her husband and... More about Judy Antell