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    Best Used Cars for Teens Under $20,000

    These safe, reliable used cars and SUVs are well suited for young drivers

    Teen adjusting the car rearview mirror before driving. Photo: Getty Images

    Parents choosing a car for their teen driver have a tough decision to make because they need to strike a balance between cost and safety.

    The temptation—often born of necessity—is to buy a less-expensive, bare-bones model or to pass down an older family car. But because the car will be transporting their children, we feel that parents should pick the best and safest car their budget allows.

    More on Car Buying

    Teenagers are among the riskiest drivers because of a combination of immaturity, inexperience, and social pressures. Consequently, they have crash rates that are almost four times those of drivers 20 and older. Choosing the right car can help teens stay safe, but it can be challenging to balance all the factors that make a vehicle ideal for inexperienced drivers.

    Consumer Reports and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) have again combined their expertise and data to create lists of used cars, SUVs, and minivans that combine accident avoidance, crash protection, performance, and reliability. These vehicle recommendations are ideal for teens, but they can serve any shopper looking for a vehicle that excels in those areas.

    “In compiling these lists, we found that some of the same models that were on last year’s lists are no less expensive and some are actually more expensive now, even though they’re a year older, due to the tumultuous market,” says Jennifer Stockburger, director of operations at Consumer Reports Auto Test Center. “As the same amount of money may not be going as far, it’s even more important to make it a safe and reliable choice.”

    The lists omit subcompact cars and other vehicles under 2,750 pounds because research shows that they don’t provide adequate protection in multiple-vehicle crashes. And large SUVs and pickup trucks aren’t included because they can be hard to handle, they often have increased braking distances, and they pose a greater risk to other motorists, cyclists, and pedestrians.

    Even amid elevated prices, we kept our cutoff at $20,000. There are many good choices for less, just fewer than last year. For some families, the soaring prices may mean that buying a new car is the right move, either for a teen or a parent, particularly with lower loan interest rates. Not to worry: We have a list for that.

    Even in this tight market, it’s possible to find some good options for young drivers. CR and IIHS identified more than 40 used vehicles ranging from $6,600 to $20,000 that meet stringent safety and reliability criteria.

    We present two tiers of recommendations: Good Choices and Best Choices, grouped by car category and ranked by price.

    Good Choices

    To make the cut to be a Good Choice, the vehicles must have:

    • Electronic stability control. ESC has important crash prevention and lifesaving potential. It became standard on all passenger vehicles in 2012 and was standard on many models before then. All vehicles have this important feature as standard equipment for the years listed.
    • Above-average reliability for a majority of the years listed, based on CR’s member surveys.
    • Average or better scores from CR’s emergency handling tests.
    • Dry braking distances of less than 145 feet from 60 mph in CR’s brake tests.
    • Good ratings in four IIHS crashworthiness tests: moderate-overlap front, side, roof strength, and head restraints.
    • Four or five stars from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (if rated).

    If you’re a Consumer Reports member, this complete article is available to you with specific recommended models. CR members have full access to the results of our Annual Auto Surveys; first-drive reviews of the newest cars, SUVs, and trucks; and our full road tests and exclusive ratings for each vehicle we buy. If you’re not a CR member, click below to join.

    For complete road tests, reliability, owner satisfaction, pricing, and much more, click on the model names below. 

    Become a member to read the full article and get access to digital ratings.

    We investigate, research, and test so you can choose with confidence.