The Deal on Wheels

Tips for choosing a vehicle for your new driver.

Fast. Flashy. Cool. This is likely how your teenage driver envisions their first car. But for you as the parent, words like safe and affordable probably more accurately come to mind.

Consider these factors in your decision:

Safety

These safety innovations are recommended for new drivers by AAA:

  • Daytime running lights make vehicles more visible to other drivers.
  • Electronic stability control, or ESC works to improve vehicle control on slick roads or at high speeds. This feature has been shown to reduce single-vehicle rollover crashes involving cars by 70 percent and other vehicle models by 88 percent, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
  • Airbags. Front airbags work with seat belts to minimize crash-related injuries. Found in many newer models, side-impact airbags reduce injury risk in side collisions and have been shown to reduce driver fatality risk by 37 percent in cars and 52 percent in SUVs.
  • Back-up warning system uses sensors and/or cameras to warn drivers of objects behind vehicles while backing up.

If you’re unsure about how safe a prospective vehicle is, you can look up its safety rating through the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety (iihs.org). It’s also a good idea to ask for a history of the vehicle if you decide to buy used. A report and inspection will help ensure that past accidents haven’t compromised its ability to protect your child.

Vehicle Type

AAA suggests the midsize sedan is the safest option. They’re less likely to roll over and are large enough to provide protection in a crash. Beware of the sports car for its high insurance premiums and its speed appeal. Trucks and SUVs are not recommended for inexperienced drivers. Plan extra practice hours with a new vehicle, especially if it’s one in power and size that your student didn’t use while learning to drive.

Insurance

What the car is worth impacts your insurance premium, according to agent Kaitlin Lea of American Family Insurance. Trucks generally have the highest premiums, followed by SUVs, followed by sedans.

If you choose an older vehicle for your child to drive, particularly one more than 10 years old, you can forgo full coverage for the cheaper, liability-only option, Lea says. This means that if your teen gets into a fender bender, you’ll still be covered for damage to other parties, but your young new driver may be stuck with a dented bumper.

However, in spite of the draw of lower premiums, older vehicles may lack key safety features, according to AAA, who suggests families consider a certified used car, which often has low mileage or only one previous owner.

Gas Mileage

Calculate what a vehicle’s mpg will cost based on your young driver’s expected usage.