Top Cars for First Time Drivers

Getting your first car as a teenager is quite possibly the most exciting rite of passage in your adolescent life. It represents individuality and freedom. But as a parent, this can be one of the most nerve-wracking and stressful times of your life. The vehicle has to be affordable, reliable, and most importantly safe. We break down the first time car buying process in hopes to eliminate some of that stress that weighs on a parent buying their child’s first vehicle.

Buying your Teenager's First Car: New vs. Used

There are more options than you can imagine when buying a car, however there are really two specific avenues to take when choosing which particular car to purchase. This typically depends on budget, but first you need to decide if you’re planning on buying a new or used car. As with most comparisons there are pros and cons for each option.

New Cars

We know a new car would make most teens forever grateful, but there is more to making your child happy with the appearance of their new vehicle. Each and every year new safety laws and regulations are published, and car companies are required by law to follow these strict guidelines. So with a new vehicle you can trust (unless a safety feature gets recalled which isn’t often) your kid is in a safer ride opposed to its 20-year-old past version. The NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) keeps updated documentation on ratings, recalls, road safety, and so much more. If you are like other parents, and safety is your main concern, you can stay updated with the latest motor laws and regulations.

You can’t put a price on your children’s safety, so if the budget supports buying a new first car it could be a great decision.

Used Cars

Used cars are also a great option for your first time driver. There is vast amount of data accessible in the world today; buying a used car can still be a safe and educated decision. IIHS (Insurance Institute for Highway Safety) and HLDI (Highway Loss Data Institute) gives detailed vehicle safety ratings for pretty much any car you can think of.

Used cars can be a cheaper option, and let’s be honest; your kid is bound to damage their first vehicle in some way. So by compiling data from various vehicle safety sites and used car rating guides, choosing a used car can be light on your wallet and your stress level.

What to Look for in Your Child’s First Car

Safety Features

There are a myriad of safety features, and as we have discussed more and more pop up each year. We want to cover the list of standard safety features that you should be looking for in your kid’s first vehicle:
Airbags: This is probably quite obvious, but make sure the vehicle has airbags and they are functional.
Anti-Lock Braking system: Your child’s first vehicle should have a working braking system on all 4 wheels.
Bumpers: Make sure the vehicle has a solid set of bumpers. In the event they wreck into something or someone, a proper functioning bumper will take the bulk of impact.

Lights: Break lights, turn signals, and headlights are all essential working parts to the safety of your kid’s first vehicle. Make sure all lights are in working order, but if they are not, changing a bulb out isn’t difficult. Just make sure this is done before your child takes off on their own in their car.
Pre-Collision Technology: This technology is common on newer vehicles. Before an impact the car prepares by tightening seatbelts, aligning airbags, and preloading the brakes.
Seatbelts: Another obvious feature, but make sure all seatbelts are working properly. Even the seatbelts in the back, you never know how many friends your child might be cruising around with.
Shatter-Resistant Glass: This feature should be standard on any vehicle you would purchase for your child; however it never hurts to make sure. Instead of shattering and covering the driver in shards of glass, this windshield breaks into many, harmless pieces.
Stability Control: This feature helps drivers avoid dangerous rollover accidents by compensating for driver error. The computer in the vehicle makes up for the amount of over-steer by sending power to different wheels in hopes of avoiding the accident.

Crash Test Scores

Crash test scores and safety ratings are an imperative deciding factor when choosing your child’s first car. As we have discussed prior detailed crash test scores and safety ratings can be found on IIHS’s website.


If first time car buying isn’t stressful enough, you have to think about preventing your child from being stranded on the side of the road. Reliability is more of a concern with used vehicles, however it’s still something to wager when buying any first time driver vehicle. Reliability scores can be found on Dashboard Light.

Insurance Costs

Car insurance rates for new drivers are based on a couple different factors. First time driver’s insurance is generally more expensive because they haven’t proven themselves as good drivers yet. Factors that determine insurance rates include what gender your child is (this has to do with risk assessment), and the fact that your kid has little to no driving experience. You can lower your teen’s insurance rate by adding them to your policy, teaching good driving habits, providing a good car, and look for student driver discounts.


Pricing is a factor every parent has on their mind. It’s not required to spend a ton of money on your child’s first car because you think it’s the safest move. Used cars are going to be in the $3,000 - $9,000 range. With any major purchase, we recommend really inspecting the potential used vehicle you will be buying. New car pricing can range from $10,000 and up.

Young girl driving a car

5 Top New Car Recommendations for First Time Drivers

5. 2018 Toyota Corolla - $18,600 | Reliability Score 4.5/5 | Overall Score 8.3/10
4. 2018 Chevrolet Cruze - $16,975 | Reliability Score 4.5/5 | Overall Score 8.3/10
3. 2018 Toyota Yaris iA - $15,590 | Reliability Score 4.5/5 | Overall Score 8.7/10
2. 2018 Kia Rio - $13,900 | Reliability Score 4.5/5 | Overall Score 8.8/10
1. 2018 Kia Soul - $16,200 | Reliability Score: 5/5 | Overall Score 9.1/10

List provided by Business Insider

5 Top Used Car Recommendations for First Time Drivers

5. 2012 Volkswagen Golf - ~$5,500 | Reliability Score 4.0/5 | Overall Score 8.7/10
4. 2012 Chevrolet Volt - ~$9,500 | Reliability Score 4.5/5 | Overall Score 8.8/10
3. 2009 Honda Fit - ~$4,200 | Reliability Score 4.0/5 | Overall Score 9/10
2. 2010 Toyota Prius - ~$7,400 | Reliability Score 4.5/5 | Overall Score 9.1/10
1. 2012 Honda Civic - ~$6,600 | Reliability Score 4.5/5 | Overall Score 9.1/10
List provided by US News

First Time Driver Vehicle Buying Guide Recap

There is a considerable amount of information to take in when debating which car to buy for your first time driver. Safety is in our opinion a top factor; however price is something to wager as well. Missouri Central Credit Union is happy to give you piece of mind with the financial side of things by offering new and used vehicle loans. Apply for an auto loan online today (no application fee) or discuss with a member service representative at Missouri Central Credit Union today!