Safety, price key ingredients in choosing a car for teen drivers
DETROIT — Car accidents are the leading cause of death for teenagers. So when it comes time to buy a suitable car for a teen driver it’s important to choose the safest car that meets your budget.
“If you can find a good, safe vehicle, you may not be able to prevent them from talking on the phone or speeding or having other kids in the car,’’ said Anne McCartt, senior vice president for research at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. “But if something goes wrong, you can maximize the possibility that the kid will do well in a crash.’’
“A great big car like the Crown Victoria is a potent machine in a straight line, but when you lose control it’s a handful,’’ said David Champion, the senior director of Consumer Reports’ auto test division.
Champion recommends cars with the smallest, four-cylinder engines, so they’re not too powerful.
Critical safety features include antilock brakes and electronic stability control. And stick with front-wheel-drive. While many people prefer all-wheel-drive in snowy weather, it can give kids a false sense of security and encourage them to drive too fast in hazardous conditions.
Price is a factor, of course, especially since adding a teen to your auto insurance can easily cost several thousand dollars a year. McCartt said used cars from recent model years — with all of the safety features of current models — are a good choice for teens.
Champion recommends these three new midsize cars, all under $20,000, for teen drivers. All are Insurance Institute top safety picks for 2011.
Volkswagen Jetta — The Jetta starts at $16,495. Among its standard safety features is a crash response system that automatically unlocks the doors, cuts the flow of gas, and turns on the hazard lights. The lowest-priced model gets 29 miles per gallon, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. A diesel version gets better mileage, but will cost you around $6,000 more. Although the Jetta is one of the Insurance Institute’s top picks, it didn’t earn the highest five-star rating from the government because of its lower scores in rollover and frontal crash tests.
Kia Optima — The Optima starts at $19,200. Among its standard safety features are two sets of side air bags: One comes down from the ceiling and covers the windows and one comes out of the front seats to protect the lower body. It also includes Bluetooth technology, which lets drivers make hands-free phone calls. It gets 34 miles per gallon.
Hyundai Sonata — The Hyundai Sonata starts at $19,395. It has a brake assist system that automatically applies the full brakes if it senses emergency braking, and traction control, which helps drivers on slick or icy roads.
Dee-Ann Durbin writes for the Associated Press.