When parents look to buy a car for a child who’ll be a first-time driver (or a recent college graduate), there are a few items to check off the list. In no particular order, that list usually includes:
Since price is a key element, used cars are definitely the way to go. Likewise, since young people don’t have the same type of disposable income, smaller cars that are cheaper to fuel up will make sense.
A June 2018 study by iSeeCars.com serves as a good starting point. The auto research and search site looked into which gently used models had five-star NHTSA safety ratings and steep price drops after three years in an owner’s possession.
Using that list, we pulled five models that were either compact or midsize sedans running used buyers less than $15,000. Here are the best deals on vehicles for young drivers.
5. Chrysler 200
- Price of 3-year-old model: $14,011
While few people will cry about the Chrysler 200 leaving the U.S. market in 2017, the midsize sedan does fit the description of a first car.
For starters, it has a five-star safety rating from NHTSA and depreciated nearly 50% on average since the 2015 model appeared. That left three-year-old 200 sedans costing around $14,000 used.
Since the ’15 edition got such poor reliability ratings, we suggest going with the ’16 model that fared much better (above average) in Consumer Reports tests. It still won’t cost above $15,000.
4. Volkswagen Jetta
- Price of 3-year-old model: $13,157
A 2015-16 Jetta also fits the bill for recent graduates and teenagers new to driving. Most can be had for less than $10,000-15,000, and the 1.4 liter turbo model that debuted in 2016 gets over 30 mpg.
Add in the strong safety record and decent reliability (2016 and later) and you can check just about all the boxes.
3. Dodge Dart
- Price of 3-year-old model: $12,420
In the five years Dodge Dart existed on the U.S. market, reviewers complained about the driving experience and overall low comfort factor. While those things might annoy middle-aged car owners, they’re rarely on the complaint list for young drivers.
Likewise, it has a five-star safety rating. Meanwhile, the price — below $12,000 for a 2016 model — makes the Dart an good call for drivers in this age group.
2. Ford Focus
- Price of 3-year-old model: $12,061
Like some other cars on this list, Ford Focus had a run of poor reliability ratings from 2012-16. However, digging into the data (compiled by Consumer Reports), transmission issues caused that score to drop almost every time.
By 2016, Ford had improved upon that flaw. Meanwhile, it continued to get about 30 mpg and features a five-star safety rating.
Priced below $15,000 (as low as $11,000) and with a look that won’t embarrass young drivers, the ’16 Focus is a good buy.
1. Kia Forte
- Price of 3-year-old model: $11,545
With the 2015-16 Kia Forte, young drivers get one of the top-rated cars in the compact segment. It easily tops 30 mpg, features a five-star NHTSA rating, and has the strongest reliability ratings of any car on this list.
It also happens to be one of the cheapest cars you can buy on the used market. Three-year-old Fortes average from $10,000-$13,000.