For any young adult, buying a vehicle can be an angst-filled process that’s as complicated as getting into the right college or buying a first home. What to buy is a personal decision, but here are a few recommendations for those drivers who are just getting started.
Best-selling models are a wise choice for several reasons:
- Selection: Because so many are sold, many are resold, which means you’ll get a wider selection of mileage, features, colors and prices.
- Repairs: Their popularity means more service centers are able to repair them, and parts are widely available and comparatively inexpensive.
- Reliability: Best-selling vehicles became so for many reasons — one of which is reliability.
So what vehicles does cars.com recommend for young drivers? The choices are many, but here are our thoughts regarding some popular vehicle classes.
- Sedans: We recommend midsize sedans. They are, as a class, reasonably safe and practical, and they don’t tempt young drivers to race, go off-roading or engage in dangerous activities. Yet such models as the Nissan Maxima and Pontiac Grand Am or Grand Prix are sporty enough that the under-25 set needn’t feel like they’re prematurely over the hill.
- Sports cars: Although this will anger every 15-year-old male out there, we do not recommend sports cars for teenage drivers. Sports cars have the worst insurance claims losses among passenger cars, according to the Highway Loss Data Institute. This isn’t entirely because the cars are less safe; it reflects on how and by whom they are driven. Granted, a young driver can drag race in a sedan or behave moronically behind the wheel of a minivan. But we believe fast cars inspire people to drive fast.
- Sport utility vehicles: SUVs continue their stranglehold on the market, but they may not be as safe for their drivers as previously thought, and they remain a threat for occupants of smaller vehicles that collide with them. Besides, many parents agree they aren’t a great first car. For one, they are priced higher, as a class, than many other vehicle types. They also have a high center of gravity and are more prone than passenger cars to rollovers.
- Wagons/hatchbacks: The so-called “grocery getters” of the 1970s and ’80s have been replaced by more youth-focused models like the Chrysler PT Cruiser, Dodge Magnum, Mazda Protegé5 and Pontiac Vibe. Wagons and hatchbacks offer cargo capability that can rival an SUV’s car-like attributes and, in the case of the Toyota Matrix, all-wheel-drive capability.
- Older used cars:We propose five years as the older used-car option here because, nowadays, five isn’t all that old. A few warranties last this long or longer, and manufacturer certified pre-owned cars include or extend warranties.
Two things happen as a vehicle ages: Warranties run out, and the need for repairs increases. Presuming that affordability is important to parents and their young drivers, we must note that if an inexpensive older car breaks down frequently, it’s not an inexpensive car in the long run. But if you are mechanically inclined and can handle some of the repairs, an older car may be an affordable choice.
Comparing Car Types
In structuring this comparison, we presupposed that affordability is a main factor. (If you can afford to buy a brand-new Volvo, you probably don’t need this guide). The key points are:
- Initial affordability
- Length of warranty
- Loss of car if totaled
In addition to cost, we chose economy cars and two ages of used cars to demonstrate the effect of these milestones:
- Initial depreciation
- End of basic warranty
- End of drivetrain warranty
Also influencing this analysis is the fact that the youngest drivers are highly likely to crack up their first car.
© TMS and cars.com, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Reprinted with permission.