Q: We are in the market for a used car for a newly licensed teen driver. Are there any issues we should be aware of beyond the obvious factors of vehicle condition and price?
A: When buying a car for a teen, safety should be the top priority. Start with the vehicle size. Pick a car that is large enough to afford a good level of crash protection but not so big that it becomes challenging to handle in tight situations, such as parking lots.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) reports that the fatal crash rate for 16- to 19-year-olds is nearly three times that of drivers 20 and over, so it’s essential that you check crash test results for any model you are considering. You can enter a car’s make and model and see its results on the IIHS website at iihs.org and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s site at nhtsa.gov. Any cars on your short list should have working stability control and antilock braking, a must for all drivers. Also, look for side head-protecting and thorax air bags as well as frontal air bags. Other safety systems to seek out are blind spot warning, lane departure warning, lane keep assist and automatic emergency braking (AEB), which can sense when a crash is imminent and apply the brakes for the driver.
Stability control was mandated for all cars and light trucks starting in 2012. Other important safety features, such as AEB, are not yet required on all vehicles.
In addition, the vehicle should have intuitive controls that minimize distractions while driving. Cars that use touch screens for multiple functions, for example, can cause distraction and confusion. You also may want to consider a model with a teen driving mode that parents can activate. General Motors began offering its Teen Driver system in 2016. Ford’s MyKey and the connected services plans in a wide range of vehicles provide similar functions. In some models, teen driving mode can limit top speed, incentivize seat belt use and issue a warning when a teen drives over a preselected speed. Some cars can also record trip information, including the top speed reached.
Finally, reject high-performance models. Teens don’t need a vehicle with a weight-to-power ratio that dips below 15. For example, a 3,000-pound compact car with a 160-horsepower engine would have a weight-to-power ratio of 18.75. In some performance cars, this number is less than 7. (To get this number, divide the vehicle’s weight by its rated horsepower.) Also, remember to get an insurance quote before buying any car.