Cute, inexpensive and small vehicles often appeal to new drivers who shop for their first set of wheels, but in terms of safety, it’s a common mistake.
Bigger vehicles provide greater protection, and it’s especially important for teen drivers, who have crash rates 3 times those of drivers over 20 years old, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
The group released an updated list of 115 recommended models earlier this month to help families choose used cars that meet important safety criteria for teens, but with reasonable price tags.
In a national survey, the institute found that 83 % of parents of teen drivers who bought a vehicle for their teenagers said they bought it used.
An older, larger used vehicle is often a safer choice than a newer small vehicle that costs the same, it noted.
“Teen drivers are at greater risk, due to immaturity and inexperience behind the wheel,” Jessica Cicchino, vice president for research at the nonprofit institute, financed by the insurance industry, said in a statement. “We know safety is just one of the factors people consider when choosing a vehicle, but we hope parents will give it extra consideration when purchasing a vehicle for a teenager.”
The new list includes used cars that range in price from about $2,000 to nearly $20,000. Best Choices, the top category, lists 53 cars that start under $20,000; the least expensive is the 2005 Volvo XC90, estimated at $3,700. The next level, Good Choices, lists 62 cars that start under $10,000.
All the models in both categories are midsize or larger. No minicars, small cars, or vehicles with powerful engines were listed. Small SUVs were included, as their weight is similar to midsize cars.
For the evaluation, the institute conducted two front-to-front crash tests demonstrating what happens to small cars and minicars, “even new ones with stellar safety ratings,” the group said, when they collide with larger used vehicles from the same manufacturer.
When a 2018 Toyota Yaris iA, a minicar, and a used 2015 Toyota Avalon, a large car, were crashed into each other, the smaller vehicle’s structure didn’t hold up as well. The same outcome occurred when the 2018 Kia Forte, a small car, was crashed into a used 2016 Kia Sorento, a midsize SUV.
The structures of the Forte, which weighs 928 pounds less than the Sorento, and the Yaris iA, which weighs 1,033 pounds less than the Avalon, “didn’t hold up as well against the larger vehicles.” Data on insurance losses were also used to evaluate safety.
The dummies in the larger vehicles fared significantly better in both cases; a high likelihood of head injuries for the driver of both the Yaris iA and the Forte in a real-world crash of the same severity were indicated in the smaller cars.
The results showed the importance of size and weight when it comes to occupant protection.
“If you’re riding in one of the smallest vehicles on the road, you’ll be at a disadvantage in a crash with almost any other vehicle around you,” Cicchino added. “Our list of recommended used vehicles shows you don’t have to spend a fortune to keep your new driver safe.”
Both the Sorento and the Avalon are Best Choices on the new list.
The institute offered the following tips to consumers looking to buy used cars for young drivers:
Stay away from high horsepower; sick with base engines. More powerful engines can tempt young drivers to test the limits and exceed speed limits.
Avoid small cars; bigger, heavier vehicles are safer. They protect better in a crash and teen drivers are less likely to crash them in the first place.
Make sure the car has electronic stability control (ESC). This technology, which has been required on all new vehicles since the 2012 model year, helps a driver maintain control on curves and slippery roads and reduces risk on a level comparable to safety belts.
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